Education

Huntley High principal meets first lady after winning national award

Marcus Belin (left) poses with First Lady Jill Biden (right). Belin was invited to Washington D.C. after being recognized by the NASSP as one of the nation's three 2021 digital principals of the year.

The principal of Huntley High School was invited to Washington, D.C., last month where he met with first lady Jill Biden, along with other federal officials, after he won a national award.

Principal Marcus Belin was named a 2021 National Digital Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in part for the school’s blended learning program, a competency-based education pilot program that blends in-person and online learning.

The trip originally stemmed from the association’s Trailblazing Leadership Week, which invited winners of national and state awards to participate in a few days of professional development, Belin said.

Those invited included the principal of the year for each state, as well as the national principal of the year, and Belin, who was one of three digital principals of the year.

As part of the trip, teachers of the year were invited April 27 to the White House campus, along with some of the principal winners, including Belin and the national principal of the year winner, he said.

“I didn’t find out about going to the White House campus until [the day of],” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. … It was so surreal.”

It was there Biden, along with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Gene Sperling, senior advisor to the president, spoke with those in attendance. Belin described Biden as “very human and relaxed,” saying she knew the things school administrators deal with every day.

Huntley High School Marcus Belin (left) poses with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (right). Belin was invited to Washington D.C. after being recognized by the NASSP as one of the nation's three 2021 digital principals of the year.

Those discussions included current challenges facing schools, various federal funding streams, and how schools are supporting their students, he said. Belin said he thought the experience was going to be nerve-wracking. Instead, it proved to be calming, as the officials related well to the everyday struggles of teachers and principals, he said.

“Cardona made a joke about reaching for our walkie-talkie and being called to something in the building,” he said. “It was those little jokes that were funny because that really happens.”

While recognition at the White House campus has been a practice in past years, Belin said this year felt different because of Biden being a current educator and Cardona being a former one, he said.

The day also was made more special as Belin has aspirations of one day becoming secretary of education, he said.

“[Cardona] asked what I aspired to do and I told him,” Belin said. “He was like, ‘It’s yours. You can get there.’”

The Digital Principal of the Year goes to three winners who are recognized for integrating digital media in their efforts to improve instruction, student achievement and their own leadership, according to the NASSP website.

This was the last year they will select a group of national digital principals, Belin said.

“I’m just happy I could represent the great work going on in schools,” Belin said. “Being there I was able to hear what’s going on across the nation, and it’s some great work.”