Q&A: Susan D. Espiritu, Principal of Pond Gap Elementary and a 2012 National Distinguished Principal

Principal of Pond Gap Elementary, Susan D. Espiritu was honored in Washington D.C. on Oct. 19 as one of 60 2012 National Distinguished Principals named by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Did someone else nominate you for this?

This is an award given by the NAESP and yes, you are nominated by other principals and recommendations are made by people who have worked with you.

How long were you a teacher before becoming a principal?

I was in the classroom over 20 years—at Belle Morris, Northwest Middle, Spring Hill Middle, Beaumont, and Gibbs Elementary. I was a curriculum coach at West View Elementary for a year, and an assistant principal at Karns Elementary for one year before being principal here, now going into my eighth year.

What do you consider the greatest strength at your school?

My staff is the greatest strength at this school, because they work every day for every student to insure their success and will try anything to remove the barriers to learning that affect many of our students. They have overwhelmingly voted for and embraced pilot programs that improve teaching practices in the school (the TAP program) and provide more equality for students by requiring uniforms for students—and assist with additional needs for our students with the after-school Community School program.

Are you and the school involved in any efforts to combat childhood obesity or inactivity?

We are working to help our students be active and support the community in activity. We have worked to develop a structured recess program this year, thanks to a dedicated group of staff members who implement it every day. We are also working toward a grant for a walking track around the school that will be used by students, staff, and community members to enhance healthy habits.

Do the kids understand the award? Have any of them made any amusing remarks about it?

The kids don't really understand the award more than I got an award and I brought back some stuff from other state representatives that I am giving away every day to their teachers. I still am just Ms. Espiritu, no big deal—which is just the way it should be.

Did they slip you any prizes not covered in the press release—new car, cash, spa weekend?

Encyclopedia Britannica gave me a CD set of Britannica and is delivering a set to our school, as well as a year's subscription to the online version!

If you were able to ask the average Knoxville citizen to do one thing to assist your school and elementary age kids in the area—both parents and not, all ages—what would it be?

I would ask the average Knoxville citizen to believe in public education by the sheer dedication of the public school teacher who devotes an incredible amount of time, energy, and money to being the best in the business of educating students. To that end, I would also ask the citizens to invest in the education of these youngest future citizens by encouraging the county commissioners to listen to and trust our superintendent and school board to invest in the systems we need to keep pace with the rest of the country and the world.