Eric Stennett credits his time in the military with helping him to be a more effective middle school principal.
"You can't lead people unless they want to be led, so your challenge is to have them believe in you as a leader," said Mr. Stennett, principal of Hampton Middle School. "It is much the same thing for both roles."
Mr. Stennett has been selected as Pennsylvania's 2013 Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.
He started his military career after he graduated from college with a fine arts degree in geology and obtained a teaching certificate.
He knew he wanted to teach, but he also wanted to serve his country.
After serving as an enlisted soldier in the Army, Mr. Stennett was in the reserves until 2004. He served in the Gulf War and was deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Then I went into teaching at a middle school in Ohio," he said. He became a middle school principal and worked in the Shaler Area School District for 10 years before moving to the Hampton School District in 2008.
In a role that could be difficult for many people -- leading hundreds of adolescents -- Mr. Stennett said he enjoys middle school youngsters.
"Kids are in a different place in their lives -- adolescence is such a difficult time for them, they can't keep still and they forget things, but it is also a great age," he said.
When he started in Hampton schools, he asked faculty and staff what they thought they were doing that worked and how they could take a great place and make it even better.
The result was the launching of an anti-bullying program that included forming an advisory committee of middle school children to help address bullying issues.
"It has been very successful, and I think really made an impact with students not only reporting on cases of bullying, but training them to know how to identify and prevent bullying," he said.
Mr. Stennett was nominated by his assistant principal, Marlynn Lux, and he credited her and others for the award.
"This isn't Eric Stennett's doing," he said. "This is a team effort, I have the best staff and faculty in the state, including Marlynn. I couldn't do the job I do without her."
Mr. Stennett and his wife, Colleen, moved to Hampton a few years ago.
His daughter, Allison, is graduating from the district this year.
"I moved here because I am committed to this community. I believe in this community," he said.
It is a dedication that doesn't go unnoticed. John Hoover, superintendent of Hampton schools, said, "Eric really is an outstanding administrator. He is very engaging with everyone -- the parents, the teachers and the students."
Mr. Hoover said Mr. Stennett's inclusion sets him apart.
"He truly listens to everyone. I often hear amazing comments about him from parents as well as teachers," he said.
Mr. Stennette's military background also comes to play in his role as a principal, Mr. Hoover said.
"Eric himself says that it really helps. I'm not talking about the heavy-handed drill sergeant approach, but the ability to implement change and to incorporate a variety of concepts," he said. "He leads by example, not just making rules."
Mr. Stennett's military experience was noted by the committee that selected him for the honor, according to Barry Purvis, past president of the principals' association..
"It is always a tough process to select a winner and the committee members weigh everything," Mr. Purvis said. "His leadership in the military and how he said it helped him in education certainly impressed the committee members."
Mr. Stennett also gave credit to his wife.
"I have the most patient wife in the world. She has put up with me being in the Army, the Reserves, going for my doctorate and now as a principal. She keeps our family running," he said.
Mr. Stennett will be recognized for his honor in October at the association's state conference. He also will represent Pennsylvania in the national contest.
"I am humbled to receive this award," he said, "but I really have the best job in the world."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.