WESTBROOK – In a surprise ceremony Monday morning, Westbrook Middle School Principal Matt Nelson was awarded middle-level Principal of the Year in front of the entire student body.

Using the guise of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Read Across America to summon students and staff into the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, school officials welcomed Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, to announce the award.

Durost began by giving accolades to the student body and staff by saying that the attentiveness and respect during the assembly “is a tribute to you young men and women in the building, and also the staff.”

“I’m here this morning because I’m pleased to announce to you that your principal, Mr. Matt Nelson, has been selected as the middle-level Principal of the Year for the entire state,” Durost said to a cheering crowd. “It is well-deserved, Matt. Congratulations.”

Following the announcement, Nelson said he was “touched and humbled,” but felt that the award represented the entire school more than just himself.

“Mr. Durost picked up real quick that Westbrook Middle School is a special place,” he said. “In my book, this is an award for middle school of the year.”

Nelson added that he often tells people about the students and staff of the school, who have faced challenges such as school restructuring (adding fifth grade to the middle school) and still continued to do great work.

“We’re the largest school in the district, the most diverse, and with all of that, we’ve always been able to do great things,” he said. “Behind every school is a team, and we have a wonderful team here.”

A Maine Principals’ Association press release stated the many reasons for Nelson’s nomination: “He has focused the attention of the school on student achievement, using data effectively to impact growth. As a thoughtful, proactive systems thinker, when he speaks, people listen. He is serious about making school a great experience for everyone and embodies a headstrong momentum toward success. Acknowledgement of the accomplishments of students, teachers, and school community members are varied, frequent, and meaningful.”

Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse said Tuesday that Nelson has always maintained his focus on other people and not himself.

“This is a guy who wins principal of the year and says, ‘This is an award for the school,’” he said.

Gousse said he has known Nelson for more than a decade, ever since Gousse came on board as principal of Westbrook High School and Nelson served as the department’s athletic director. He said his respect for Nelson plays into the decisions he makes as superintendent.

“I think to myself, I want to make sure I don’t do something to disappoint a guy like Matt Nelson,” he said. “Even though I’m superintendent, I look up to people like him.”

Nelson served as Westbrook’s athletic director prior to being named principal of Westbrook Middle School in 2010. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Joseph’s College and a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern Maine. Nelson’s wife, son and daughter were also on hand Monday morning to celebrate the honor.

At the assembly, Nelson reiterated two statements he uses a lot in the school.

“All students matter. It doesn’t matter what your last name is, where you live, where you come from,” he said. “Every adult is important. Every adult that comes in contact with you is important whether it’s bus drivers, the person you see first thing in the morning, custodians, or the school nurses.”

Nelson said Tuesday that the award process has inspired him to continue to achieve new things for the middle school. “The process really helps you reflect on your school,” he said. “We’ve been able to see the strengths of our school, and we’re always looking to improve.”

Nelson will be honored at the Maine Principal Association’s Spring Conference awards banquet on March 27, 2014. Next fall, he will also be honored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Washington, D.C.

Some 800 principals in the state are members of the Maine Principals’ Association, with the organization providing 60 days of professional development each year.

Every year, the association honors an assistant, elementary, middle, and high school principal with the award.

Westbrook School Superintendent Marc Gousse, far right, leads a standing ovation for Matt Nelson, principal of Westbrook Middle School, after it was announced at an assembly Monday that Nelson is this year’s Maine Middle School Principal of the Year. Dick Durost, left, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, traveled from Augusta to make the announcement at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. For story, see page 4.  Matt Nelson, principal of Westbrook Middle School, with his family after the announcement of his selection as this year’s Maine Middle School Principal of the Year. They are, from left, son Thomas, wife Neale and daughter Anna.

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