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Georgia principal wins national Terrel H. Bell Award


MEDIA CONTACTS: Matt Cardoza,, (404) 651-7358 or Keisha Ford-Jenrette, (404) 657-2949

October 30, 2015 – James Heater, principal at Ester F. Garrison School of Visual and Performing Arts (Savannah-Chatham County Public School System), was named the recipient of the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership today. Heater is one of seven principals nationwide to receive the award, which honors outstanding school leaders and the vital role they play in overcoming difficult circumstances.

“We know that there is a common ingredient in great schools, and that ingredient is outstanding leadership, just like that of James Heater,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “I congratulate Mr. Heater on this prestigious award that recognizes his tremendous leadership.”

The U.S. Department of Education, together with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Association for Middle Level Education, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, presents the Terrel H. Bell Awards to principals of National Blue Ribbon Schools for their outstanding work and the vital role they play in guiding their students and schools to excellence, frequently under challenging circumstances. This year’s recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony Monday, November 9, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

When Heater became principal of Esther F. Garrison School of Visual and Performing Arts in 2013, he was the school’s third principal in as many years. Garrison was struggling with its mission and identity. Leadership was fundamentally broken, resulting in a loss of confidence from all stakeholders, and the PTA had fallen apart. As principal, Heater immediately engaged his leadership team, parents, stakeholders, and students, and dedicated himself to encouraging excellence throughout the building. His continuous promotion of high expectations for students and staff was recognized when he won the 2014 Georgia PTA Outstanding Principal Award.

The core of Heater’s leadership philosophy is to treat every person in a respectful, caring, and professional manner. He conveys this by sharing school responsibilities with all constituents and fostering communication that addresses their dreams, hopes, and ideas.

Heater is Georgia’s second Terrel H. Bell Award recipient – Dr. Traci Jackson, principal of Shirley Hills Elementary School in Houston County, was honored in 2011.

The award is named for former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who began his career as a high school teacher and bus driver, and later served as a principal, superintendent, state commissioner of education, Commissioner of the Office of Education under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and Secretary of Education under President Reagan. Bell worked with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) to found the Blue Ribbon Schools initiative and the National Distinguished Principals Program to recognize outstanding schools and school leaders.