Rock Hill, home to numerous state teachers of the year, now has the best middle school principal in the state. Michael Waiksnis, principal at Sullivan Middle School, has been tapped as the 2014 middle school principal of the year by the S.C. Association of School Administrators.
Waiksnis, who was honored with a surprise celebration by district officials last week, humbly attributed the honor to the hard work of his students and faculty. And they no doubt deserve some of the credit.
But Waiksnis, who took over as principal from Bob Heath in 2008, has been an unusually imaginative, involved, energetic and dedicated school leader.
As he noted during last week’s celebration: “We’re never afraid to try something new.”
For example, in September, he, his 900 students and their teachers marched out to the school’s playing field and formed a giant peace symbol to endorse the International Day of Peace, officially celebrated by the United Nations on Sept. 21. After the peace sign had been formed, eight students released blue and silver ballons symbolizing negative behaviors, such as gossip, anger and ignorance.
“To be truly peaceful, people have to let go of hate and make room for caring,” Waiksnis told the students before the balloons were released. “They have to let go of being intolerant and embrace being open-minded.”
Now, that’s a lesson students will remember.
In 2012, Sullivan used a $575,000 grant to launch an after-school and summer program called The Zone to teach students how to be entrepreneurs. Students in the program learned the basics of designing, marketing and selling products and how to run a business.
In 2011, parents and students were eager to start a soccer program at Sullivan, but the school district, strapped for cash in recessionary times, had no money to spare. So, to raise the $3,300 needed to launch the program, organizers sought out partners in the community to donate money or equipment, and the soccer program was born.
Many people both inside and outside the school helped make these projects successful. But the pattern of innovative approaches to learning suggests that Waiknis’ leadership also was crucial in these and many other successful activities at Sullivan.
That no doubt was apparent to members of the Association of School Administrators who chose Waiknis as best principal from among a large and talented group of fellow principals from around the state.
Molly Spearman, executive director of the association, called Waiksnis “an enthusiastic school leader who represents the high quality of school principals across our state. To be a great school, you must have a great principal – and Sullivan is fortunate to have his leadership.”
We would echo that sentiment and add that the school district, the community and the children who benefit from Waiknis’ leadership are fortunate that he has chosen to live and work in Rock Hill. Congratulations to him and the Sullivan teachers and students who helped him earn this honor.