A principal in Northwood, N.D., Shane Azure has been selected as the North Dakota High School Principal of the Year for 2018.

Azure, who is in his 10th year as high school principal in Northwood, was selected for the honor by the North Dakota Association of Secondary School Principals.

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"I'm humbled," he said. "There are a lot of principals around the state who are deserving."

He credited the "caring and committed staff" at Northwood High School for the recognition he's received, he said. "To me, it's a team award."

As such, it affirms the direction and progress that has been achieved at the school, which has an enrollment of 117, he said.

Azure and his 17-member teaching staff have adopted several innovative measures that have produced positive results, including an improved graduation rate and ACT scores, and an increase in the number of students who have qualified for North Dakota Academic and Career and Technical Education (CTE) scholarships.

Also, the school's dropout rate is down, he said. "I see more kids engaged in the classroom, and are in the classroom, and a lot less discipline (issues) in my office."

The school's staff members developed a mission and vision statement, along with a strategic plan that "has given us a framework and a path to follow," he said.

It includes a focus on relationships with a goal of changing the school culture.

"We're really big on building relationships," he said. "We've tried to create a climate and culture conducive to learning. That's achieved by building relationships with students and staff and with stakeholders such as the community and board members."

Azure encourages staff members to connect with others, especially students.

"Visibility is huge. That means being in the classroom, in the hallways, and at events," he said. "Kids notice when their teachers and administrators attend events."

Azure credits other stakeholders-parents and School Board members-who support efforts to implement forward-thinking strategies.

While "direct instruction" is still needed in the classroom, academic progress has been made by "allowing our teachers to incorporate things that reflect education trends in the 21st century," including STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), and cooperative and project-based learning, he said.

Staff members have also revised their approach to homework, he said. "Kids say they don't have the busy work anymore."

"We want homework to deepen knowledge and to encourage kids to practice the skills they're working on in the classroom."

Azure is also proud of the number of course offerings that include dual-credit courses and those provided by educators at Mayville State University and in the CTE program based Grand Forks.

"We want to put kids in a position to succeed, whether they are headed for the workplace, the military or college," he said. "We feel our students are college- and career-ready."

A 1993 graduate of Dunseith (N.D.) High School, Azure attended college and played basketball at NDSU-Bottineau. He earned a bachelor's degree in business education from Dickinson (N.D.) State University in 1998 and a Master of Science degree in educational leadership from NDSU in 2005.

He taught for two years in his hometown, Dunseith, and eight years with the Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg school district in the areas of business education, social studies and physical education. He has also coached football, basketball and baseball.

Azure, who was inducted into the Dakota College Bottineau Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, is a member of the North Dakota High School Coaches Association.

He serves on the board of directors of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders and the North Dakota Association for Secondary School Principals. For the later organization, he served as a regional diversity representative board member from 2012 to 2016.

Nominated for the state's High School Principal of the Year by his peers, Azure was selected as a regional finalist, one of six in the state. Those six were considered for the honor of being named Principal of the Year.

As a state winner, his nomination will go on for consideration for the National Principal of the Year award, which is presented by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

At the Northwood school, "We've made a lot of gains and strides, with our ability to look beyond today," Azure said.

"It's all about having a vision of where you want to head-today, tomorrow, next year."