Clovis principal honored with top education award

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- A local elementary school principal is getting national recognition for outstanding school leadership.

George Petersen is receiving top marks for his work in education, but he tells Action News school wasn't really his subject as a kid.

"I knew by the time I got to school, I didn't like school," said Liberty Elementary Principal George Petersen. "So on the first day of school as a kindergartner, I ditched."

Though he was not exactly the model student at first, George's parents didn't let him off easy.

"I was very successful at ditching school, until Back To School night when my mom asked my teacher how George was doing and the teacher said, 'George who?'" said Petersen.

His dad made him a deal.

"He said, 'You have to promise me not to get in fights and do your homework and I'll let you play football'," explained Petersen.

Peterson had to repeat sixth grade, but by the end of the year, was MVP of the football team and voted student council president.

He attended Fresno State and inspired by his dad's work in education, set off to make it his career path too, teaching at Clovis High School and working in administration at several Clovis schools before finding a home at Liberty Elementary in 2007.

"He's just given us the freedom to own our classrooms and experiment with whatever's best for kids and with that our test scores just keep going up," said fourth-grade teacher Melissa Campana.

"He's in our classrooms, he knows what's going on, he knows the kids, he knows our instructional styles and passions and lets us take risks," added another fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Patterson.

It wasn't until this year that he decided to go for the Terrell H. Bell Award.

"My Dad passed away back in March, and part of me said, 'How cool would it be to honor my Dad and go for this award'," said Petersen.

Petersen is the only principal in the state to have been recognized, and is one of only 10 in the nation. He'll be honored in a ceremony in D.C. on Nov 14.
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