SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Every time Nedra Chasar drops off her son at Covington Elementary School, Principal Sheri Fillipi is there, ready to welcome students.
“She’s at the door every morning to greet the kids as they come in,” Chasar said. “It’s pretty neat; it’s very personal.”
Fillipi on Friday was awarded Nebraska's National Distinguished Principal Award.
Friends, family members, colleagues and, of course, students all were present in Covington Elementary's gymnasium to recognize her achievement.
The award is presented each year to one principal from each state by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Educators nominate principals they believe exemplify quality leadership in education in each region of their state. There are five regions in Nebraska.
Fillipi was nominated by Sarah Williams, principal at McAndrew Elementary School in Ainsworth, Neb. She then applied for the state award and was notified in December that she had won.
Fillipi will attend a conference in Washington, D.C., in October with the other 49 winners. They include John J. Decker, principal of Mellette Elementary School in Watertown, S.D. Nominations for Iowa's Elementary Principal of the Year are due by June 30.
Current teachers at Covington Elementary and past colleagues all took turns at the microphone Friday sharing memories of their time with Fillipi and extending words of encouragement.
But the main attraction was the students. In turn, student sections stood, singing, dancing and reciting poems of appreciation for their principal.
"We are proud of you, Mrs. Fillipi, so proud of you. You challenge us to be our best because that's what leaders do," sang third- and fourth-grade students from their spots on the gym's bleachers.
Although this is Fillipi's second year as Covington Elementary's principal, she has worked in the South Sioux City school district for 19 years in a number of positions. She attributes much of her success to those around her. Her award is really a reflection of the great work throughout the school district, she said.
“It’s really a celebration of our district and the support that has been given to me,” Fillipi said. “And the people you work with, because you do nothing alone, it’s all about the team and the people you surround yourself with.”
The work put in by Fillipi and her colleagues all culminates with the students, Fillipi’s husband, Kevin Fillipi, said.
“If I had to say one thing about her teaching strategies or anything with education, it’s that she puts kids first in anything she does with education,” he said. “Whether she’s dealing with teachers or other principals, it’s always about what’s best for the kids.”
Dennis Schmitz, a former colleague of Fillipi's, agreed. Over the years she’s developed a unique style, proving herself to be an effective leader and a positive influence on both her students and faculty, he said.
“Being a woman in this profession is kind of difficult, and she handles it pretty well,” he said. “When she needs to be tough she can be tough. She’s a really great listener, which makes her a really effective communicator. She’s here for the right reasons.”
Those skills, Chasar said, clearly resonate throughout the halls of Covington Elementary.
“This is a nice school. There isn’t tension. It’s always pleasant to come here,” she said. "There’s a good air here. It’s positive, and the kids feed off that stuff.”
As Fillipi moves forward with her career, Schmitz said the sky is the limit for a person of her talent level.
“We’ve been trying to push her into some sort of higher education, maybe at the college level or even being the superintendent of schools, but we haven’t quite got her to that point yet,” he said. “It’s whatever she wants to do and whatever direction she wants to take.”
For now, however, Fillipi said she wants to stay put. She’s on the forefront of Nebraska’s education system and that’s where she wants to be.
“I don’t see myself aspiring to greater levels because I really want to be where the action is. And the closer you are to the kids, the more you’re involved in their learning,” she said.