Padonia International Elementary School's Melissa DiDonato is one of three finalists for Baltimore County's Public Schools' elementary school Principal of the Year award for the 2017-2018 school year.
Last week, school officials announced that DiDonato was a finalist, along with Cheryl Brooks, of Berkshire Elementary School, in the eastern county, and Tracy Robinson, of Glyndon Elementary School.
The winner will be named at an April 26 ceremony to be held at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in, Towson, during which the system's secondary school principal of the year and its teacher of the year will also be named.
There are106 elementary schools in Baltimore County. This year, 12 principals were nominated by their school communites for the Principal of the Year award.
DiDonato, who has led the school of more than 500 students in Cockeysville for five years, was nominated for the award by the school's staff, parents and students.
"It's just a very incredibly humbling and incredible honor," she said.
Reading recommendation letters from community members, staff and students allows her to believe that her work as principal has had a positive impact, she said.
The finalists for the Principal of the Year awards were selected by a panel of judges who represent stakeholders in Baltimore County Public Schools, school officials said.
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At Padonia, 5th-grade teacher Michelle Valerio led the charge for DiDonato's nomination, chairing a nomination committee and coordinating nomination documents from teachers, students and the community.
DiDonato's performance as a principal stands out, said Valerio, who is in her first year teaching at the school, adding that DiDonato encourages staff to provide exceptional instruction every day for every student.
"She is here all the time," Valerio said. "She really believes in our staff and our students and that the long hours really pay off."
DiDonato keeps abreast of current educational research, encourages professional development, has an open door policy for questions and, most importantly, is an advocate for students and staff, Valerio said.
"She never lets people talk negatively about her school," Valerio said. "That's her baby."
Padonia parent Melissa Dease, the vice president of the school's parent teacher association, also served on the committee that nominated DiDonato.
"She really has a passion for our students," Dease said. "If she tells you she's going to get something done, you better believe it's going to get done."