Find us on
Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2022-23
Washington State Elementary Assistant Principal of the Year:
Deborah Henderson
An ‘unflappable leader’ at Frank Wagner
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture; Ensuring School Safety, Planning with Data, Aligning Curriculum, Improving Instruction, Managing Resources, Engaging Families & Communities, Closing the Gap
Deborah Henderson knows that empowering her staff means empowering her students.
Now in her fourth year as assistant principal at Frank Wagner Elementary in the Monroe School District, Henderson has worked to achieve her goal of increasing professional development for staff in core subject areas by focusing on improving instruction and school culture.
She hit both targets and earned recognition as the 2023 Assistant Principal of the Year.
“Deb is an unflappable leader,” said Brooke Fox, a counselor at Wagner Elementary. “It’s really hard to put into words just how really, really good she is with kids. She inspires confidence, and not only in her leadership – although she is a wealth of knowledge — but also in the people around her.”
“She’s just that determined, patient, insightful person that you want on your team,” added Fox. “And I’m really glad that she’s on ours!”
For the staff at Frank Wright, having a leader like Deborah Henderson in their corner means the world.
A Student-Centered Focus As a Title 1 building with a significant number of students in poverty and English Language Learners, the staff of Frank Wagner have had to meet students where they are and work to increase their capacity for achievement.
Henderson worked in tandem with the school’s principal, Hugo Molina, as well as an instructional coach from the district and trainers from Columbia University to provide a research-based curriculum and job-embedded professional development. This resulted in teachers knowing what to teach and how to teach it.
But she didn’t stop there.
In her first year working with Principal Hugo Molina, she supported his vision of moving towards an all means all model by revamping the master schedule to focus on the needs of students and student learning, rather than the adults.
In his nomination, Molina praised Henderson for navigating all of the changes that came with teaching through – and returning from – a pandemic. Henderson implemented schoolwide PBIS expectations and strategies that responded to the needs of their student population. Working with a trauma-informed leadership team, they increased staff knowledge and rolled out strategies to all teachers, giving them the support needed to implement them schoolwide consistently. Community satisfaction surveys during COVID showed that her efforts paid off.
“I could not do my job without Deb as my Assistant Principal and a member of the building team, wrote Molina. “Given all of the challenges Monroe School District has faced and is continuing to face, Deb held the building and staff together during the 2020-2021. It was not easy stepping into my principal role, but having Deb at the building was tremendous help. She held the staff together and helped to support the culture in my transition to principal.”
Henderson’s dedication to her staff and vision for her school continue post-pandemic.
“Her relationships and communication with students, staff, families, and our community as a whole have given us the social capital to be able to move our work forward,” said Molina.
Those ‘Ah Ha!’ Moments “I’m very fortunate because in the school, I get to see kids and their ‘ah ha!’ moments,” said Henderson. That’s why I’ve stayed in education for 25 years now. But when I see those same ‘ah ha!’ moments in staff, I have the excitement of knowing they’re going to take that back into the classroom and that’s going to positively affect 25 children,” she added.
“Our role is also about thinking about our staff, to give them everything they need to increase student learning.”
For the staff at Frank Wright, having a leader like Deborah Henderson in their corner means the world.
“She not only listens, but she processes and thinks about how her decisions are going to affect her teachers and how her teachers are feeling,” said Missy Maxon, a teacher Wagner. “She takes our well-being into account. She listens and she is empathetic when she makes those decisions.”
Michelle Patzelt, who works in the school’s LAP program, says Henderson is the real deal.
“Deb is always here. She makes it so that she is visible throughout the campus and she will drop whatever she is doing to be there to make sure kids feel safe and staff feel supported in what they’re doing,” she said.
“You can’t teach someone to do that. It’s just part of who they are.”

Watch Deb’s video on YouTube.