From math instructor to administrator, Neag School Alumna named National Principal of the Year  

Charles B. Gentry Building is home to UConn’s Neag Program where students earn a master’s in education. The program has recently expanded enrollment to help address the lack of teachers in Conn. Photo by Skyler Kim/Staff Photographer Daily Campus.

Current principal at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Haddam, Connecticut, Donna Hayward, was named the 2023 National Principal of the Year by the Association of Secondary Principles in November, according to UConn Today 

“I can’t remember the last 20 years a Connecticut principal won a national award,” Jeffery Wihbey, Superintendent of  Regional School District 17 of Connecticut, said.  

Wihbey said there have been a lot of positive things revolving around her due to her accomplishment and mentioned that there was a lot of positivity surrounding the event as well. 

“I was inspired by his drive to start a school halfway across the world that positively impacted the lives of young women,” Hayward said according to an article published by UConn Today.  

Jason Irizarry, the dean of Neag School of Education, commented on Hayward’s accomplishment. 

“The Neag School is thrilled that Donna has received this national honor. An alumna of our UConn Administrator Preparation Program, Donna has had an incredible impact on her students at Haddam-Killingworth High School, which was named a National Blue Ribbon School five years ago,” Irizarry said.  

Irizarry mentions that Hayward mentions candidates of the UCAPP program to give her knowledge of helping the next generation of future leaders in the education system. He says she has become a spokesperson for principals across the country due to receiving the title of the national principal of the year award.  

Hayward’s administrative experiences include assistant principal and then principal at Rocky Hill High School. As well as Suffield High School before her current position at Haddam-Killingworth High School.  

Hayward has had several recognitions due to her accomplishments in the past. In 2006 she earned Connecticut’s Assistant of the Year award and served as president of the Connecticut Association of Schools. In 2018, Haddam Killingworth High School was named National Blue Ribbon and in 2022 she was honored with the Connecticut Principal of the Year award where she went to Washington, D.C. as a finalist and went to interviews and discussions with the U.S. Department of Education and NASSP, according to UConn Today  

“This is my profession. I know what I think about these topics. I know what my experience is. They weren’t asking me anything I don’t know. I just had to express myself and tell my story,” said Hayward according to UConn Today  

“Donna is a superlative school administrator. My initial reactions were I was thrilled but not surprised because I know how much of a strong administrator she is,” said Wihbey 

According to Wihbey, to celebrate Hayward’s accomplishments the district did numerous social media posts, media blasts and a press release with the Hartford Courant back when the news first came out. He emphasized that Hayward is a “humble” woman and wanted her accomplishment downplayed to a degree at first, yet over time she gave permission for a press release to happen. Wihbey also mentioned she was honored with a dinner through the Connecticut Association of Schools for her accomplishments of winning.  

Hayward had to go through a written application process covering topics on school security, student voice, and raising academic achievement along with interviews and panels about challenging topics that educators and schools face today, said UConn Today  

Education is changing with the introduction of more technology into the classroom. Neag has taught its students how to develop effective and engaging lessons to be successful once they enter the workforce as teachers. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels.

Wihbey had to be interviewed several times and had to approve of Hayward’s nominations to continue her award process. Wihbey mentioned that some of the questions during the interview revolved around what she stands for, what she fights for and her leadership tendencies.  

According to UConn Today Hayward recognized the Neag School’s UCAPP program as she accepted her award. She will now continue to inspire students and leaders in mentorship just as she was inspired at an early age.  

“Donna always leads with kids’ best interest in mind and I always see Donna fighting for what’s best for the kids and the decision-making process,” said Wihbey.  

Wihbey mentioned that in leadership it is hard for administrators to get specific issues or messages across to the community and Hayward always makes the decisions that are best for the students in the community.  

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