Thursday April 11, 2024

Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation announces recipients of the 2024 Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 11, 2024) – Today, the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation announced the two Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award recipients for the 2023-24 school year: Principal Kandy Bishop at James Monroe Elementary School and Shane Nelson at Putnam Heights Academy. These exemplary school leaders will be recognized at the Stars of Education Awards event at the Yale Theater in Historic Capitol Hill on May 9. 

Principals chosen to receive this prestigious award demonstrate strong academic leadership, cultivate positive culture in their schools, provide exceptional leadership to their teachers and staff with clear purpose and direction and build meaningful relationships within the community. 

“The value of strong  leadership at the school site is often overlooked, and we are so grateful to the family of Sam and Charolet Shirley for recognizing the need to celebrate outstanding principals,” said Mary Mélon-Tully, Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation president and CEO. “Being a school principal is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult jobs in a school district. Our principals wear many hats and leadership is critical for creating a culture of excellence in our schools.”

“Kandy and Shane lead by example while fostering trust and building strong relationships with their students, staff, families and the community,” Mélon-Tully added. “Both are shining stars in our school district and truly make a difference for our students in the classroom and beyond.”

Natalie Shirley, daughter of Sam and Charolet Shirley, established the Outstanding Principal Award in their names in 2018. Natalie Shirley is dedicated to education in Oklahoma as a former university president and Oklahoma Secretary of Education and Workforce. Before her retirement, she was selected as the first female President and CEO of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and currently serves as chair of the OU Board of Regents. 

“A quality education significantly impacts the next generation’s future, and principals are the driving force behind it all,” said Natalie Shirley. “Principals of our public schools have the difficult task of inspiring and engaging students, teachers and the community as a whole. This year’s recipients took the challenge in stride and produced outstanding transformations in their schools.”

Principal Kandy Bishop has been a loyal Oklahoma City Public Schools employee for almost 20 years, the last five of which she has served at James Monroe Elementary School. During her time there, Principal Bishop has led by example, and Monroe Elementary has been recognized as a Great Expectations Model School, Schools for Healthy Lifestyles, and a LEAD OKC school. Principal Bishop’s school has experienced tremendous academic growth, being tied for the highest growth in NWEA in elementary schools and had the highest growth for winter 2023. The 350 students at Monroe Elementary represent 18 different languages spoken with roots from over 23 countries. Principal Bishop celebrates the cultural diversity of her students and staff on a daily basis and promotes understanding and inclusivity through special after-school heritage events. Staff, students and community partners alike value Principal Bishop’s open communication and team-oriented approach to achieving success. 

Principal Shane Nelson has served in the unique position as the founding principal of Putnam Heights Academy for the last five years of his almost seven years with OKCPS. Along with the transition of Putnam Heights from an elementary school to an alternative school for grades 5-12 came many challenges that he met with determination. Principal Nelson has established a trusting relationship with community partners and the surrounding neighborhood through regular, open communication, consistent availability for in-person meetings and school tours. He recognizes that the individual challenges these students face must be addressed in innovative ways and strives to provide meaningful opportunities to set his students up for a successful future. Under his leadership, Putnam Heights Academy was the first alternative school in the nation to adopt the Ron Clark Academy House System, which encourages students to excel socially, academically and behaviorally. Those who work with Principal Nelson laud him on his ability to practice patience, care and compassion in any situation. The significant academic growth over the past year at Putnam Heights Academy is a testament to his strong and effective leadership.

“The level of commitment our principals have to educating our students is nothing short of remarkable,” said Dr. Sean McDaniel, Superintendent of OKCPS. “Our principals are setting the tone for a warm, collaborative atmosphere in our schools and really steering the district in the right direction. We’re especially proud of Principals Kandy Bishop (Monroe Elementary School) and Shane Nelson (Putnam Heights Academy) on being named Outstanding Principals. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to them on this much-deserved recognition.”

Both principals will be recognized at the Stars of Education Awards on May 9 at the Yale Theater in Historic Capitol Hill, along with the announcement of the 2024 OKCPS Teacher of the Year and several other honorees. Doors will open at 4:00pm with heavy hors d’oeuvres and beverages served before the event starts at 5:00pm. 

For more information about the Stars of Education event, honorees and sponsors, please visit



Created in 1984, the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance excellence, advocate for equity and build strong community support for lasting success in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The Foundation works closely with the District and business community to align strategies and priorities for sustained performance improvement. The OKCPS Foundation is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. To learn more about the Foundation, its focus areas, and its volunteer and giving opportunities, visit


Beth Harrison | Gooden Group | 405-625-5258 |

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