October 13, 2005

Contact: Rosa Aronson, NASSP


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ms. Sharon I. Byrdsong, principal of Azalea Gardens Middle School in Norfolk, Virginia, today was named the 2006 MetLife/NASSP National Middle School Principal of the Year. Dr. Mel J. Riddile, principal of JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, was named the 2006 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year. This marks the first time in the history of the program that both the National Middle and High School Principals of the Year have come from the same state.

Byrdsong received the award for demonstrating excellence in resolving complex problems, involving the local community in the school, and her consistent success in improving Azalea Gardens Middle School overall learning environment. Byrdsong will receive $5,000 as part of her award.

"Sharon Byrdsong has taken on the difficult challenges that leaders often face. She has worked tirelessly to raise expectations of all stakeholders, challenged and changed belief systems, and evaluated and strengthened educational practices in order to create a true school community. Her success stems from her involvement of the staff, students, parents, and the community in any effort to improve the school environment, stated Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director, NASSP. "With her boundless energy, data-driven, results-oriented decision making, exceptional ability to communicate, and her insatiable quest to increase student success, it is easy to see why Sharon Byrdsong is a shining example of a professional who exemplifies the qualities of a dynamic educational leader."

"We applaud the efforts of Sharon Byrdsong -- a perfect example of how the strategic planning and hard work of a school principal can make a significant, positive impact on today's students and America's future," said Michael K. Farrell, senior vice president, MetLife and head of MetLife Resources.

Byrdsong came to Azalea Gardens Middle School, an urban school with an enrollment of 807 students (46% of whom are on free/reduced lunch program) in 2000 and began working with teachers and staff members to establish a school-wide sense of responsibility, trust, pride, and high achievement. Her school improvement efforts have centered on proven best practices such as professional learning communities, personalization, and a rigorous curriculum.

Following a needs assessment that revealed an atmosphere of low expectations that was reflected in the school's SOL scores (in the 50%-60% pass rate when she first arrived), Byrdsong designed and implemented "SOL Success Caravan and tutorial program to inform parents and encourage them to have their children participate in the program. Azalea's successful implementation of the program has been dramatic. Azalea students scored in the nineties in all tested areas of the 2004 SOL assessments, the highest scores for middle schools in the Norfolk area.

Byrdsong has been serving as the 2005 Virginia State Middle School Principal of the Year. She was one of three finalists selected from candidates from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA).

***Photos and bios of the National and State Principals of the Year for 2005-2006 can be seen at


The National Association of Secondary School Principals--the preeminent organization and the national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals and aspiring school leaders--provides its members the professional resources to serve as visionary leaders. NASSP promotes the intellectual growth, academic achievement, character development, leadership development, and physical well-being of youth through its programs and student leadership services. NASSP sponsors the National Honor, the National Junior Honor Society, and the National Association of Student Councils.

MetLife Resources, a division of MetLife (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company), provides retirement plans and other financial services to healthcare, education, and not-for-profit organizations. MetLife, a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET) is a leading provider of insurance and other financial services to millions of individual and institutional customers throughout the United States. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife, Inc. offers life insurance, annuities, automobile and homeowner's insurance and retail banking services to individuals, as well as group insurance, reinsurance and retirement and savings products and services to corporations and other institutions. Outside the U.S., the MetLife companies have direct insurance operations in Asia Pacific, Latin America and Europe. For more information, please visit