Sparks High School assistant principal CJ Waddell was recently named Nevada’s top assistant principal of the year by the Nevada Association of School Administrators and will join 53 other school administrators across the US at a national principals awards ceremony in July.
“It’s exciting to be winning an award for something I love doing every day. I don’t think there are that many people out there who actually get an award for something they love doing so much,” Waddell says.
This was the first time that Waddell applied for the award following a tip from principal Kevin Carroll and an area superintendent. She started the application process yet almost abandoned the idea after her mother got sick.
While she hasn’t read any of the recommendations from parents, students, teachers, and the principal, it is likely that Waddell’s glowing reviews got the extra attention of the Association and prompted them to extend the deadline.
“On the last day, a member from the association called me and asked why I haven’t submitted my application yet. When I told them my circumstances, they agreed to extend the deadline so that I could get mine in. It made me feel good that they wanted me to finish it,” she says.
All she knows is that one student asked his English teacher to help him with the grammar and syntax of his recommendation. “I ran into the teacher in the hallway and she told me that the student’s letter was heartwarming and sweet,” she says. “But I didn’t want to see it because I feel that it is a confidential reference.”
“The Association extended the deadline for her because they felt like she was such a qualified candidate,” Carroll adds.
Waddell started her teaching career with the Washoe County School District in 1999 when she was hired as a Spanish teacher at Sparks High School. She served there for two years before going over to North Valley High School in 2002 and taught French, her second language. In 2009, Waddell was promoted to Dean of Academics at North Valley High before switching over to Reno High School. When the assistant principal position became available at Sparks High School in 2014, Waddell excitedly got the role.
“It’s really awesome to be back here. I loved Reno and North Valley but I started my teaching career here, I love the kids, and I love that it’s a neighborhood walking school. Most of us stand out in front of the building every morning to welcome the kids. This school has a small family atmosphere, it’s kind of special.”
“Sparks, North Valley, and Reno High Schools all have different personalities and cultures but the students all have the same hopes and dreams and reasons for coming to school. We try to address those needs and help them succeed.
I see these squirrely middle schoolers coming in and not quite sure how they are going to fit in. I see how they are limiting themselves, but it’s fun to watch them grow. When they start believing in themselves and working towards their future, it’s exciting to see them come so far from where they started to when they graduate. And then it’s nice to see them go out into the world and be successful.”
Waddell says that she and the rest of the administrative staff at Sparks High view the students’ successes as their own, which makes her job so fulfilling.
“I take that very seriously, there’s a difference between how to teach and how the students are learning,” she says. “It’s a big honor to receive this award and I’m proud to represent our state, our county, and our district this way. This was not expected,” Waddell says.
All 53 school principals who won in their respective states will be at the national conference in July to be officially recognized. The three finalists for the national designation will be announced in February and the winner announced in April before officially released to the public in July.
“She has many solid relationships with the students here and has done so much for this school to help improve the graduation rate, credit attainment, and create a positive and safe climate and culture. She always puts the students first. She is so deserving of this award…she is dedicated to our students and one of the reasons why the school is so successful,” Carroll adds.