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Hamilton Middle School Principal Marlin Lewis was selected as the 2019 National Distinguished Principal for Montana by the Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals at the annual Montana Principals Conference held January 27-29 in Helena.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of principals in the state of Montana that deserve this, and to be chosen by the Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals is wonderful.”

Hamilton High School Principal Dan Kimzey, who has worked with Lewis when Lewis was a math teacher at Polson High School and as an administrator colleague in Hamilton called it a “well-earned honor for Mr. Lewis.”

“He is forward-thinking, creative in scheduling, skilled in interpreting data and runs a top-shelf school,” Kimzey said. “Montana is blessed with many amazing principals in its schools, and Marlin will represent Montana's elementary and middle school principals very well during the National Distinguished Principal process and is an amazing asset to Hamilton School District #3.”

The nomination process was that Bruce Whitehead, Ph.D., a retired administrator from Missoula, came to Lewis in October and recommended he apply because of successful programs at Hamilton Middle School.

“He came down, looked at all our programs, staff and classes,” Lewis said. “I completed the application and included some letters from students, staff and community members.”

Lewis said the award is a reflection of the staff at Hamilton Middle School, the administration at the Hamilton School District and the programs started at the middle school.

“We have everything from programs that the counselors have started such as leadership and teaming with the [Trapper Creek] Job Corps, we are teaming with BEAR and GUTS and things that add benefits for our students,” he said. “They are bringing success academically as well as socially.”

BEAR and GUTS are two local youth programs that focus on inner strength, mentoring and connecting with the outdoors.

BEAR is the Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources, a youth mentor program, and GUTS is Girls Using Their Strengths, a partnership with the YWCA in Missoula, which is a girls leadership and empowerment program that encourages girls to discover their inner strengths and personal values through weekly groups.

Kaylie Beierle, school counselor, added the HMS CASH program to the list of positive opportunities that Lewis supports.

“It stands for Colt After School Help,” she said. “It is one-hour after school where students can do their homework with help from teachers. We also use it with kids that are failing classes so they can be more successful in school.”

Other HMS programs include: SciGirls, engineering and robotics, advanced writing classes, theater, musical theater, tradition band and choir, art, coding, foreign language, civics, FACS, Native American book study and beading, math counts, economics and health occupations. Many of these are electives that tie directly to the career pathways at HHS.

The selection criteria looked at student attitudes toward learning, their self-perceptions as lifelong learners, the scope and quality of educational experiences and the dedication and enthusiasm of the principal.

“We have great kids, great teachers, supportive parents and administrators,” Lewis said. “We have a very supportive school board, Mr. Korst, our Superintendent, and community that believes in strong schools. It’s a great place to be an administrator and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

HMS sixth grade students shared some thoughts about their principal.

Lauren Nelson said, “Mr. Lewis is one of the most caring, understanding, helpful people I know.”

“He always strives to make the school a better place for the teachers and students,” Nelson said. “He deserves this award 100 percent.”

Liam Griffin said of Lewis, “He deserves it more than anyone, I feel safe and secure when I am around him.”

Reagan Burrows said, “Mr. Lewis is definitely someone I can look up to.”

“He is nice and he knows how to make school fun,” Burrows said. “He absolutely deserves this award and I think pretty much everyone agrees that he is actually the best in the state.”

A press release from the School Administrators of Montana (SAM) said, “Mr. Lewis has been described as uniquely insightful and forward-thinking regarding current trends in education especially the roles of school governance, decision making and representing the ‘principalship.’ It is through his visionary leadership and positive influence that reveals a quality person who continues to strive for best practices in administration and curriculum development.”

The press release also praised the educational culture that Lewis created for HMS.

“[He] has designed a culture in which staff, parents, and students work to attain high educational standards, while targeting each student’s individual instructional needs. He has fostered an environment at Hamilton Middle School in which students form the critical basis for becoming lifelong learners. He is excellent at fostering a positive relationship with each child.”

Lewis serves on both the School Administrators of Montana (SAM) and MAEMSP Board of Directors as the MAEMSP SAM Representative.

In October, Lewis will travel to Washington, D.C. and participate in activities designed to honor elementary and middle-level principals chosen by the states, the District of Columbia, and private and overseas schools.

Kirk Miller, executive director of the School Administrators of Montana, praised Lewis.

“Marlin Lewis is the prime example of outstanding leadership in Montana’s public schools,” Miller said. “His character and abilities are commendable as he engages students, staff, colleagues and the community in creating high-quality learning opportunities for all students and a successful school environment. He will be a wonderful representative as Montana’s National Distinguished Principal.”

The National Distinguished Principals Program is sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and established in 1984 to promote and celebrate excellence in educational leadership for pre-K-8 education.