ACSA EdCal logo.
Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Indio High School Principal Derrick Lawson received the NASSP's 2021 Advocacy Champion of the Year award.
Lawson receives national award for advocacy
May 31, 2021
The National Association of Secondary School Principals has bestowed its 2021 Advocacy Champion of the Year award to one of ACSA’s own: Indio High School Principal Derrick Lawson.
The Advocacy Champion of the Year award recognizes an individual for outstanding and significant contributions to advancing the policy agenda of NASSP and advocating on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student.
NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe presented the award to Lawson during a virtual ceremony broadcast on May 12. Nozoe commended Lawson and Assistant Principal Rich Pimentel on efforts to reach struggling students during the pandemic — efforts that were recently featured in an article from The Washington Post.
“Indio High School’s vulnerable populations were disproportionately suffering. Half the students lived with family members who had gotten sick.
A third lacked stable housing and a quarter had begun working full time or were caring for younger siblings while at home,” Nozoe said. “Derrick and his assistant principal worried about kids and they knew that they had to reach them. They wanted to know that these students, like all students, were doing OK, we’re on track to graduate, and they had someone who cared about them.”
Lawson’s advocacy extends beyond his own students as he works to make schools better for every student nationwide. Lawson has developed a close relationship with staffers and legislators, including U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, which has given elected officials a window into what legislation looks like in schools.
Lawson, who also serves as NASSP State Coordinator for California, recruits and organizes school leaders across the state to participate in grassroots advocacy work. Lawson plays an active role with the ACSA — keeping the association apprised of topics NASSP is pursuing to help push education policy at the state level.
ACSA Executive Director Wes Smith joined the presentation to give remarks, calling Lawson an inspiration to ACSA members.
“Derek is relentless in his advocacy. In particular, he speaks about those student populations who have been disproportionately affected by a system that, we have to admit, doesn’t lift up all students. But Derrick does. He speaks to those disparities,” Smith said. “He works to eliminate those access achievement and opportunity gaps and he helps us as an association in California get better.”
Lawson shared that he draws inspiration from the U.S. motto “e pluribus unum” in his advocacy.
“I am moved by the fact that I as one singular voice in a suburban high school in one desert community can be amplified and be part of a much larger chorus,” he said, “because out of many principals and assistant principals across the country, we together can have a singular voice and influence the decisions that impact the education of every child across the nation.
During a Q&A with NASSP Deputy Executive Director Beverly Hutton, Lawson explained why he makes advocacy a priority. He shared advice for educators who want to increase their advocacy efforts but don’t know where to begin (“Get on Twitter and follow — lurk if you don’t want to send anything”) or are intimidated by legislation (“you don’t have to understand the nitty gritty … make sure you understand what does it look like in your
When he is advocating, Lawson said he thinks of the students, like the senior who stopped logging on to distance learning because his younger sisters needed to use the one internet connection for their classes.
“I look at kids like Cristobal who, he wants to graduate on time, he wants to do well, but he also cares
 more to see that his two younger siblings have the opportunities in life. That’s the kind of kids I have,” he said. “It is really all about them. Everything we do is all about them.”
Leaders from ACSA and NASSP joined a virtual awards ceremony for ACSA member Derrick Lawson on May 12. Clockwise from top left: Lawson, Beverly Hutton and Ronn Nozoe of NASSP and ACSA’s Wes Smith.
Contact Us

© 2020 Association of California School Administrators