Pennsylvania Principals Earn Prestigious School Leadership Credential

September 12, 2019

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Elite Group of Educators Awarded Credential for Record of Highly Effective Leadership

Harrisburg, Pa. – Four Pennsylvania school principals are among an elite group of educators in the United States to receive the Distinguished Principal credential from the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) as part of the second cohort of the Advanced Credentialing System. The educators were awarded the advanced credential after a rigorous evaluation process in which they demonstrated their capacity for strategic leadership and effectiveness in driving student achievement.

The 2019 Pennsylvania Distinguished Principals are Traci Kuhns (West Crawford Elementary, Connellsville Area School District), Tom Shaughnessy (Park Elementary, Steel Valley School District), Wanda Suarez (Lafayette Elementary, Lancaster School District) and Tom VanArsdale (Scotland Elementary, Chambersburg Area School District).

The educators participated in a year-long, two-phase evaluation process in which they engaged in action learning in their schools and produced a portfolio demonstrating their command of systems thinking and their ability to assess and diagnose the needs of their school as they work toward robust student achievement goals. This portfolio was considered by an expert panel alongside student achievement data from their schools over a period of several years. These educators will now continue their action learning and help to build the capacity of their colleagues and support other school leaders in reaching the credential.

“Strong school leadership is essential to the success of our state’s education system,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said. “We are proud of these educators for their dedication to improving student achievement and for their commitment to bettering Pennsylvania’s schools by supporting their peers.”

The new Distinguished Principals will be invited to join the first cohort of Distinguished Principals in playing a central role in the ongoing development of a first-of-its-kind credentialing system for school leaders that aims to transform the principalship in America—strengthening principals’ leadership skills at every stage of their career.

Based in part on international benchmarking research conducted by its parent organization, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), NISL’s Advanced Credentialing System aims to create a transparent, codified and respected leadership development system that supports and rewards educators as they progress through their careers—similar to the world’s top-performing education systems. The initiative, which began in 2016, is being piloted in partnership with districts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Mississippi under a multi-year, $10.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program.

“Improving school leadership leads to improved student learning,” David Osborne, NISL’s SEED Project Coordinator, said. “Top-performing education systems around the world place a priority on creating a leadership development system that develops leaders at all levels to manage the education system effectively. Advanced credentialing will help build the next generation of great school leaders and help us reach our goal of developing great principals at scale.”

NISL will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Education over the next year to transition the credentialing process to the state.

To speak with one of the school leaders credentialed or David Osborne, members of the media may contact Julia Banks at For more information on the NISL Advanced Credentialing System, visit

The National Institute for School Leadership, a program of NCEE, partners with schools, districts and state departments of education to provide education leaders with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to design and lead high-performing systems. By preparing leaders to serve as strategic thinkers, instructional leaders and creators of a just, fair and caring culture, NISL strives to create education systems that provide students equitable opportunities for learning and meet the highest global standards. NISL’s leadership programs are the most widely used research-based leadership supports by states and districts in the country. For more information visit

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) was created in 1988 to analyze the implications of changes in the international economy for American education, formulate an agenda for American education based on that analysis and seek wherever possible to accomplish that agenda through policy change and development of the resources educators would need to carry it out. For more information visit