NEW PALESTINE — Though many educators say that working with middle school students is one of the hardest jobs in education, first-year junior high principal Jessica Neill handled the position like a seasoned veteran and has been awarded for her efforts.

The New Palestine Junior High School (NPJHS) principal was recently recognized as the Indiana Association of School Principals (IASP) 2024 District 10 Middle School Principal of the Year. District 10 consists of school districts from Hancock, Shelby, Rush, Decatur, Fayette, Union, Franklin, Jennings, Ripley and Dearborn Counties.

The Principal of the Year program is designed to recognize the outstanding leadership of active, front-line principals. One of the 12 district Principals of the Year will be selected as overall Principal of the Year for each of the three categories — high school, middle and elementary later this year.

Neill said she was quite surprised when she found out she was nominated for District 10 Middle School Principal of the Year, let alone receiving the award.

“Being an educator is not a job that you do for accolades,” Neill said. “The work is rewarding in itself. There is such joy in working with young people, teachers and fellow educators. It is a privilege to have a career that also allows me to serve others in my community.”

New Palestine Community Schools Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said Neill is an amazing leader.

“She has come to us with great experience, listened to her students, staff and community, learned their needs, and then taken that information to lead a great school year,” Lantrip said. “We can’t wait to see how their team will continue to excel.”

Neill, who came to the district this past school year with 24 years of experience, said she has been blessed with amazing mentors, including Lantrip, who she said has provided great encouragement and helped her to make a smooth transition as a new principal at New Palestine Junior High.

“Dr. George Philhower (Superintendent, Eastern Hancock) was my superintendent when I was an elementary principal,” she said. “I learned so much from him about courageous leadership and innovation.”

She also credited Dr. Ellen Welk, who first hired her as an instructional coach at Eastern Hancock and saw leadership qualities in her that Neill didn’t see in herself.

 New Palestine Junior High principal Jessica Neill took on a major task as a first year principal this year, but she was awarded the Indiana Association of School Principals 2024 District 10 Middle School Principal of the Year Award announced recently. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“I hope that I represent well the many people who have invested their time and talents in me,” Neill said. “I also hope to always pay it forward when I work with upcoming leaders whether they be our students or my coworkers.”

Like a true leader, Neill credited the district, the people working there and students attending NPJHS with all the credit.

“New Palestine Community Schools is an amazing place filled with amazing people,” Neill said. “We have awesome teachers, administrators, counselors and support staff who come to work each day to make a positive impact.”

Neill noted her most important task is to make the teachers’ jobs as easy as possible so they can do the important work of teaching.

“That allows our students to learn and be ready for the next level in high school,” Neill said. “Any recognition given to me is just a testament to the work of our entire staff.”

The Indiana Association of School Principals is a not-for-profit, professional association serving more than 3,300 building level administrators in Indiana. The IASP organization provides professional growth and advocacy opportunities, supporting principals and other school administrators in their quest to lead educational achievement. Additionally, IASP offers student academic competitions at all levels—giving Indiana students the opportunity to shine in their academic pursuits.