Liza Burrell-Aldana, a graduate of the School of Education’s doctoral program in educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech, was named 2023 Principal of the Year by the Washington Post. She was selected for the annual award from a panel of 16 finalists representing school districts in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

As principal of the Mount Vernon Community School, Burrell-Aldana led her school through the pandemic and a building renovation that lasted from 2019 through 2021– two individually daunting tasks. More impressively, her school’s student test scores improved during the pandemic, and she has maintained her staff during a time of high turnover in education.

Shortly after receiving the Washington Post award, Burrell-Aldana was invited to return to the Arlington Public Schools to serve as the principal for Claremont Elementary School, the school in which she started as a public school teacher 15 years ago. She said she was sad to leave Mount Vernon, but she is excited to return to Claremont.

Burrell-Aldana spoke to her experiences pursuing her doctorate at Virginia Tech while working full time as a principal.

“I started the doctoral program in 2020 when the pandemic hit the world,” she said. “Even though the pandemic was the most challenging time in education to date, the support that I received from Virginia Tech professors was invaluable and helped me maintain the focus on keeping the school on track and centered despite the uncertainty of COVID-19.” 

In her work, she embodies Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Burrell-Aldana is a native of Columbia, and her childhood experiences there inspired her to become a teacher after graduating college. Growing up, Burrell-Aldana was the oldest of four sisters. Her father sold appliances and her mother sewed bathing suits at a factory. Though neither were able to attend college, they taught Burrell-Aldana math and social sciences, inspiring her to become a teacher.

“I loved the way they taught me,” she said.

At 26, she won a scholarship to earn a master’s degree in the United States. After graduating from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, she moved to Virginia to teach in private schools, and, after becoming a U.S. citizen, she transitioned into teaching in public schools.

Her childhood experiences also had a direct impact on her work as a graduate student at Virginia Tech. Her dissertation, “The Relationship Between Teacher Referral and the Representation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Students in Gifted Education” was based on a study she conducted to examine the issue of disproportionality in gifted education in the United States.

“The topic of my study was the teachers' role in the representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in gifted education,” she said. “One of the highlights of my experiences heading toward the [Washington Post] award was the advocacy for increasing the representation of CLD students in gifted education programs. I am thankful for the guidance I received from my dissertation committee throughout the process of completing my dissertation and applying it to my practice as a principal.”

The original article announcing Burrell-Aldana’s achievement can be found here.

Article written by Sharon Flynn Stidham