INDIANAPOLIS — When he saw his mother, father and brother at the awards banquet for the Indiana Association of School Principals, Keith Fessler knew they were up to something.

Fessler, principal at New Palestine High School principal, attended a gathering earlier this month as one of 12 district finalists for Principal of the Year after being named the District 10 High School Principal of the Year a few months ago.

Seeing his family in the crowd, he had an inkling he’d been chosen for the top award. Turns out, he was right.

Fessler was named the 2017 State High School Principal of the Year, beating 11 other finalists for the title.

Having his parents and brother, who also is an educator, at the banquet made winning the statewide recognition all the more special, Fessler said.

Fessler, who has served as the high school’s leader since 2011, earned the top statewide honor for the first time after being named District 10 Principal of the Year two other times. He also was awarded the District 10 honor — representing schools located in southeast Indiana, including those in Dearborn, Decatur, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Jennings, Ripley, Rush, Shelby and Union counties — in 2013 and 2016.

The award was presented at a dinner Nov. 19 at the Indianapolis J.W. Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.

The Indiana Association of School Principals is a not-for-profit professional association serving more than 2,700 building-level administrators in the state of Indiana.

The award was presented at a dinner at the Indianapolis J.W. Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis by the IASP State President, David Strouse, presiding along with Todd Bess, Executive Director.

The Indiana Association of School Principals is a not-for-profit professional association serving more than 2,700 building-level administrators in the state of Indiana.

Fessler is the second Southern Hancock educator to win the statewide principal award. In 2015, Jim Voelz, Doe Creek Middle School principal, was selected as the statewide middle school principal of the year.

Being selected as the statewide Principal of the Year over the other district principals is a real honor, Fessler said.

“There are a whole lot of great principals in the state and closer to home, in our own district,” he said.

Caroline Clayton, an English teacher at New Palestine High School, isn’t surprised Fessler was chosen for the top honor. In Fessler she’s found a principal who focuses on building relationships.

“He works to cultivate positive relationships with students, teachers, support staff, coaches, everyone who comes into our building,” she said, in an email to the Daily Reporter.

Beyond forming those bonds, Fessler listens to ideas and encourages teachers to try new things in their classroom, Clayton said.

New Palestine High School has implemented and advanced several educational opportunities for students during Fessler’s tenure, including the Early College program, as well as Project Lead the Way.

The school’s graduation rate and student attendance figures continue to be in the high 95 percentile range or above, and the high school has received the Indiana Department of Education’s annual Four Star School designation on a regular basis.

Fessler is the kind of educator who goes out of his way to show his staff members how much he appreciates them.

Teachers and coaches will occasionally receive hand written notes from Fessler, thanking them for a job well done.

New Palestine has always been a high quality school, longtime teacher and coach Brian Kehrt said. But in the past six years, he’s seen Fessler take the high school to new heights.

“He’s created an atmosphere where excellence is expected, and support is always available to students and staff,” Kehrt said.

But Fessler credits his success to others, saying he feels fortunate to be part of a community full of great teachers, parents and students.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or