Nevada Central's Chris deNeui named Iowa elementary principal of the year

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

A Nevada school principal who's been recognized as one of the best in Iowa said she's motivated every day by trying to be a good example for others and wanting people to be happy and kind.

The School Administrators of Iowa professional association last week announced Chris deNeui — principal of Nevada Community School District's Central Elementary — as the 2021 Iowa Elementary Principal of the Year.

“It’s one of those things when I think about this job, I feel like my whole body smiles," deNeui said.

She has been Central Elementary's principal since 2017, was nominated by peers, selected for recognition by a committee of other Iowa elementary principals and will be recognized at School Administrators of Iowa's annual conference in August, according to a news release from SAI.

DeNeui will also be honored as a distinguished principal nationally by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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SAI's executive director Roark Horn said one of deNeui's best leadership skills is "her ability to create an environment where everyone can maximize their potential to grow and learn."

DeNeui said that means "I don’t need to be the one to do everything or always be the driver. Sometimes the best leading that I do is giving other people permission to do great things, and then I just get out of the way and let them do their thing."

However, she said she can also make tough decisions, “and sometimes that’s what people need. They need someone to make the tough decision and then they get to go do the work, or they get to go do what is best for kids.” 

She credited her assistant principal, Travis Temple, and his set of skills that make it possible for her to be as successful as she is. 

She also credited her leadership team and the school’s culture as other things that motivate her every day. “Culture is everything. Everything that we do, we are looking at what kind of a culture we are building.” 

DeNeui said she is an optimistic person, but also that “We fail forward a lot here, and that’s how we grow.” 

“Failure with something doesn’t mean that it’s not working. It means it didn’t work this time, so what are we going to do differently to make it work better next time.” 

As for the challenges of the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said online learning was what was most difficult for her, especially at the beginning of the school year, when it felt like “we were running two different schools.” 

It was all uncharted waters, trying to figure out the best safety measures for the in-person learners and how best to serve the online learners, she said.

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She said Central Elementary opted to dedicate four classroom teachers to online learning. 

“I worried about the mental health and mental well-being of my staff, because we were asking them to do a whole lot of things, and in the fall, there were still some unknowns with COVID" about what was possible and what was not.

“Control what you can control and don’t worry about things that are out of your control" is one of two bits of advice she would go back and tell herself at the beginning of her career in education or as a principal.

The other: “Always believe the best in people." 

DeNeui was previously an elementary principal at West Marshall Community School District, and began her career as a second-grade teacher.

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Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.