Libby Principal Wins Distinguished Principal Award

Ron Goodman says reading rates at Libby elementary are contributing to school’s success

By Justin Franz
Ron Goodman, principal of Libby Elementary. Beacon File Photo

Last month, Libby Elementary School Principal Ron Goodman was told to attend the Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals’ Winter Conference in Helena.

Goodman, who’s led the school for more than a decade, was frustrated that he would miss three days of school to travel to the event. But his boss, Superintendent Craig Barringer, said it was mandatory because the school would be recognized for its high reading scores.

So on Jan. 27, Goodman grudgingly drove to Helena with his wife. One of the highlights of the event is the annual banquet. But again, Goodman wasn’t interested in spending a lot of time there.

“I had planned on eating some cake, doing some dancing with my wife and then getting the heck out,” he said.

But then it came time to announce the 2016 National Distinguished Principal for Montana and Goodman suddenly realized why he had been told to attend the event. Unknown to him, Barringer and a group of educators in Lincoln County had nominated Goodman for the prestigious award sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Goodman emerged from a strong field of nominees to win the award established in 1984 to celebrate principals who set high standards for instruction and student achievement.

“I didn’t know what to say, I was speechless,” Goodman said.

Also unknown to Goodman, his wife and co-workers also found a way to get his entire family from Libby to Helena for the event.

Officials with the Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, which is part of the nonprofit School Administrators of Montana, said Goodman is an ideal candidate because of the work he has done in Libby over the years. As the recipient of the award, Goodman will travel to Washington, D.C., for a national conference in October.

“Ron is a fine example of the outstanding leadership in Montana’s public schools,” said School Administrators of Montana Executive Director Kirk Miller. “The characteristics he demonstrates are great for the community, school and students in Libby.”

But Goodman is reluctant to take a lot of the credit. He said the success at the school is a team effort and much of the credit belongs to the teachers.

“This isn’t about what I’ve done,” he said. “This is about what we’re all doing here in Libby because there are some really good things happening right now. This is an award for the school as a whole.”

One initiative that Goodman has spearheaded is the Striving Readers Program, which is a supplementary literacy program from the U.S. Department of Education aimed at improving student-reading levels. Goodman said the program, which the school implemented in 2012, was an immediate success.

According to literacy testing data, 42 percent of Libby Elementary School students were significantly behind in their reading abilities in the fall of 2012. Since then, the numbers have dramatically improved, with only 20 percent behind their class in the spring of 2013 and 9 percent behind in the spring of 2015.

Goodman grew up in Columbia Falls and after college taught English for a year in Kazakhstan, just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. While there he received a communist teaching award, something he jokes may or may not help him in the national competition this fall. After returning home to America, he spent five years teaching in Idaho Falls, Idaho, before becoming the principal in Circle. He returned to Northwest Montana in the early 2000s and has been the principal at Libby ever since.

Goodman said winning the distinguished principal award was a huge honor and, although he’s looking forward to the national conference in Washington D.C., he’s once again wary of taking another long trip. But this time, it’s not because he’ll be missing a few days at Libby Elementary.

“They scheduled it right in the middle of hunting season,” he said, laughing.

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