PRESS RELEASE – 5/02/2022
Sterling Elementary School, Principal Denise Kelly, named Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals National Distinguished Principal for 2022.
The Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals is proud to announce our National Distinguished Principal for 2022 is Denise Kelly, principal of Sterling Elementary School in Sterling, Alaska. The 2022 National Distinguished Principal Celebration marks the 38th year that the National Association of Elementary School Principals has presented this prestigious award.

Denise Kelly was nominated and selected by her fellow principals through a statewide search process conducted by the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals. She was presented with the award at a surprise assembly this morning with her family, school community, AAESP board members and Kenai Borough School District leaders in attendance. 

Kelly graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1998, she then added a Master’s Degree in Education Administration and Supervision from the University of Phoenix and later also received a Graduate Certificate in Restorative Practices from the International Institute of Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Kelly began her administrative career as an interim principal at Kilohana Elementary School in Kaunakakai, Hawaii in 2009 and after moving to Alaska in 2011 started her career in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District at the district office and then at Sterling Elementary. She is currently in her eighth year as the principal at Sterling Elementary.

Kelly is a true educational and community leader. She was a finalist for the Kindness Experience Award from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in 2019 and received a Human Dignity Award from the Victory Over Violence Organization in 2010.   Kelly has volunteered at the Sterling Senior Center and Community Center. One of her colleagues shared that Kelly is a leader who “creates a positive school culture focused on citizenship and the greater community. Her students are engrossed in how their actions impact their daily lives.” Kelly believes in balancing leadership and management to make sure her students are surrounded by effective and caring people. She believes that the crux of leadership is motivating people and that leadership is shared amongst her school, and the larger, community. Commissioner Michael Johnson reached out to say, “Congratulations Principal Kelly and thank you for being an example of citizenship for your students.”  He added that Principal Kelly is “not just a school leader, she also serves her community.” 

Kelly will travel to Washington DC in October 2022 for two days of activities planned to honor and bring well-deserved recognition to the elementary administrators selected by their respective states.

AAESP believes that Denise Kelly is well deserving of the National Distinguished Principals’ Award. We are proud to acknowledge her leadership and commitment to Alaska’s children representing Alaska’s elementary principals.

For more information:
Jennifer Schmitz, Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals Executive Director,


Leadership, Unity and Advocacy for Public Education.