Plymouth State University (PSU) alumna and current Doctor of Education candidate Alexa Schmid has been named the 2019 International Principal of the Year by the United States Department of State, the inaugural award for overseas principals in this annual celebration. Part of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ National Principal of the Year program, the award recognizes a secondary school principal who teaches abroad and provides strong learning opportunities for students as well as exemplary contributions to the profession. Schmid is a native of Plymouth, NH.
“Alexa has made an impact on the lives of countless students across the world,” said Marcel Lebrun, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Doctor of Education in Learning, Leadership and Community Program at Plymouth State University. “Plymouth State University is proud to play a supporting role in her story, ensuring that she has the training and resources to be successful in Kenya, and wherever life – and her career as an educator – may take her next.”
After completing her undergraduate degree, Schmid served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, in Southern Africa, where she lived in a small village with no electricity and learned to speak the local language while she helped rural subsistence farmers with fish farming, agroforestry, animal husbandry, and agricultural practices. The experience expanded her worldview and ignited her interest in teaching abroad. Schmid began her career teaching in Cairo, Egypt, while completing coursework for her Master of Education degree with PSU through online and in-person classes during her summer breaks. While teaching at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India, Schmid decided to explore administrative roles within education. Upon completing her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership with PSU, she became the Embassy School’s Assistant Principal. In 2017 Schmid moved to Nairobi, Kenya, to become Principal of the International School of Kenya. She is currently working toward her Doctor of Education degree at PSU.
“It is an honor to be recognized with this award. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing mentors who have helped at every step of my career,” said Schmid. “I am also fortunate to have found a program – right in my own childhood backyard of Plymouth – that gives me the flexibility to live my dream of teaching abroad, working with students from different backgrounds, and making a global impact, while continuing my education. Because my coursework is online and through in-person classes over summer break, I can be at my best for my students each and every day. I hope that I inspire my team to grow and stretch to provide meaningful learning experiences for students.”
The International School of Kenya is a private, non-profit school founded in 1976 through a partnership between the United States and Canadian governments. The school serves the educational needs of both expatriate and Kenyan students who seek a challenging, international curriculum that leads to the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. Schmid oversees 260 students in the middle school, which includes grades six through eight, and she takes pride in preparing them for a rapidly changing world, providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to take responsibility, address challenges, and to become responsible citizens.
Schmid’s director, David Henry of the International School of Kenya, nominated her for the Principal of the Year award, exalting her can-do attitude that allows her to quickly adapt to new situations and find creative solutions to problems. She stood out among the other nominees because of her leadership in developing student-led community-building opportunities, supporting the school’s diverse student population and creating a sense of belonging and identity for her students. Schmid implemented a new advisory program, along with several clubs and leadership opportunities to enhance students’ voices. She also transformed the school’s elective programs to encourage increased student choice, allowing students to follow their passions or find new ones.
Schmid is particularly proud of her work to support students as they take on leadership roles. She assisted a group of students who planned and led the entire school in a “Plastic Protest” on Earth Day, and then presented a single-use, plastic-free proposal to the school’s director. She also helped a student group in developing school-wide workshops on difficult topics, including race, gender, neurodiversity, and LGBTQ+.
Schmid has spearheaded various initiatives to improve the school’s operations and recruitment efforts. She also leads a diversity working group to improve the school’s cultural competency, global citizenship in the curriculum, diversity in staffing, and support for the school’s diverse community.
“My role as Principal is similar to that of a gardener,” Schmid said. “My job is to nurture and support those in our community so they can blossom. I aim to create fertile ground and a space where creativity, innovation, and possibilities are endless. I model this to my students by taking risks and showcasing my curiosity.”
Schmid will travel to Washington, D.C., in September 2019 to participate in The National Association of Secondary School Principals’ National Principal of the Year program. There, she will participate in professional development, network with peers, and be recognized for her achievement during an awards program and reception.
Schmid is looking forward to spending the summer in Plymouth, enjoying the break with her family and taking courses at the PSU campus. She expects to complete her doctorate studies in 2020.