State names former Moseley leader Principal of the Year
By Emanuel Griffin
Palatka Daily News
Sarajean McDaniel is the first administrator in the history of the Putnam County School District to be named Florida Principal of the Year.
The state’s Department of Education selected her as the winner of the Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership on Saturday.
“This is a team recognition really,” McDaniel said. “I received it, but if it wasn’t for all the people at Moseley (Elementary School) that came together to love, teach and inspire the kids every day, I would not hold this title at all.”
According to Superintendent Rick Surrency, McDaniel’s work at Moseley made her more than deserving of the recent recognition. He said she was instrumental in improving the school, which had been on the state’s turnaround list since 2009 for consistently being rated lower than a C.
“With her experience as a turnaround principal, she completely changed the culture at Moseley,” Surrency said. “She helped them get a C for the first time in 10 years.”
Prior to becoming the principal of Moseley in 2017, McDaniel worked in the school district as principal of James A. Long Elementary School, an assistant principal, a teacher and an academic coach. She said she has been employed by the school district since 1996.
The school district isn’t just McDaniel’s place of employment, though. It’s also where she grew up.
McDaniel graduated from Palatka High School and attended Mellon Elementary School, the school where her mother, Jean Strickland, worked as a paraprofessional before retiring in 2012.
“Sarajean is from here and has an understanding of our families, our children and where they’re coming from,” Mellon Principal Libby Weaver said. “That has definitely served her well.”
Despite constantly pretending to be a teacher as a kid, McDaniel didn’t realize she would follow in her mother’s footsteps until college.
“When I was in high school, I think there were a couple of times I heard of these fancy job titles,” McDaniel said. “I remember at one time thinking I wanted to be a radiologist, and I don’t even know that I knew what that was besides a cool name.”
In 1996, McDaniel graduated from the University of North Florida with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and began teaching prekindergarten at E.H. Miller School that same year.
After her first year teaching, McDaniel received a different assignment and began teaching at Mellon, the school she once attended.
McDaniel worked as a prekindergarten teacher there, with her mother serving as the prekindergarten instructional assistant. She was working with the woman who raised her and inspired her to become a teacher.
“To return back there was like returning home where all the staff knew me and saw me grow up,” McDaniel said. “It was really cool.”
McDaniel worked for the school district in a number of capacities before becoming the assistant principal at James A. Long in 2009.
Weaver, who was the principal of James A. Long at the time, said she knew McDaniel was going to be successful as an administrator.
“Sarajean has always had a God-given talent for connecting with people,” Weaver said. “When I think back on what makes her different, it’s that immediate connection that she is able to make with people, which she then can use to motivate them to do pretty much anything.”
McDaniel’s abilities to motivate and inspire prompted the school district to promote her earlier this month.
McDaniel recently left her position as principal of Moseley to become a leadership development coach, where she will mentor novice principals and help implement improvement plans for schools across the district.
“Our entire district is celebrating her success,” Surrency said. “She represents all of our administrators, teachers and students.”
According to a statement from the school district, McDaniel will receive $3,500 and attend a celebration at a later date as a result being the 2020 Florida Principal of the year.