PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - An educator from Pass Christian will be honored in Washington, D.C., next week as one of the best school principals in the country. Over the summer, Joe Nelson was named one of three finalists in the "MetLife/NASSP Middle School Principal of the Year Award".
He was the first finalist ever nominated from Mississippi. Nelson expressed his pride in putting the Pass and his state in the national spotlight.
For Joe Nelson, every child deserves a chance to succeed.
"They're our future doctors. They're our future lawyers, our future tax payers. I think here in education, our jobs are the most important jobs in the United States," Nelson said.
Nelson should know. He comes from a family of educators.
"My mother was a third grade teacher. My father taught high school, taught community college for about 41 years. Actually, I said this is something I never wanted to do, but I ended up doing it and I fell in love doing it," said Nelson.
Nelson once worked in the engineering field, until a former assistant principal convinced him to give teaching a try. Nelson started his career as a technology teacher at Biloxi High School. He never dreamed 21 years later, he would be named the top middle school principal in Mississippi and among the best of the best in the nation.
"So it was an honor for me to know that I was the first ever nominated in the top three in the history of Mississippi, quite an honor," Nelson said.
Nelson was chosen for his ability to inspire teachers. Under his leadership, Pass Middle School has achieved Level-5 status and a Star rating year after year. His students' test scores remained consistently high, even through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
"I was shocked and proud of him, because he's such a great principal and what he does for the school is amazing. He's made me enjoy school so much," said eighth grader Nathan Weatherly.
"He's a hard worker. He's here before probably 6:30, after 6:30. So I was not surprised, because he deserves it and he works hard for it and I'm very proud of him to be recognized for that," said teacher Tracy Moore.
Nelson found out this week he did not win the national grand prize.
"I was not disappointed. It was still an honor to still be in the top three in the United States. There are over 25,000 middle schools in the United States, being in the top three of all that, it's just outstanding," said Nelson.
Nelson said being a finalist has given him the opportunity to tell the rest of the country about Mississippi's wonderful schools.
"We're not last and we have some great schools here and those great schools are compared to other great schools in the United States and we want to get those stories out," said Nelson.
He will get to share all the academic successes with other great principals when he goes to Washington D.C. on September 17. While there, he will also get to talk with members of Congress about education issues, like No Child Left Behind, funding, and literacy.
For being a finalist, Nelson will receive an award and a $1,500 education grant. By the way, the grand prize winner is from Hawaii.