State officials refer to Vilonia administrator Cathy Riggins as one of the "best of the best" now that the middle school principal has gained Master Principal status.

Riggins is one of 21 principals statewide to earn the distinction.

"This is a four-year process that takes commitment," Diana Peer, Master Principal leader, said during Monday’s awards presentation at the Arkansas Board of Education meeting at the Arkansas Department of Education in Little Rock. "They are the best of the best."

Many start the process, Peer said, but don’t complete it because of the rigorous qualifications.

Riggins has been a principal since 2007. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She’s a specialist in education leadership from Arkansas State University.

Riggins said during her acceptance remarks that achieving Master Principal status is "one of the most effective ways to invest in education." She called the program "the most effective job embedded professional development I have had the opportunity to experience in my career."

Riggins also talked about her commitment to education, not that her goal in achieving Master Principal status was not for self-gratification but to find a way to help her students be the best. She talked briefly about the four-year process to achieve the status, including a three-day site visit from officials to make sure "you are doing what you say." Riggins also thanked her staff and Vilonia School District administrators for their support throughout the process, along with her parents, Howard and Charlotte Williams. Riggins said her parents played a major role in helping her through the program. They have helped her "juggle" studying, working, driving and taking care of her "at home" commitments, she said.

Frank Mitchell, Vilonia superintendent, said Riggins "is a credit to education. This is a great honor to her, the school district and the community."

The Master Principal program was authorized by Act 44 of the Second Extraordinary Session of the 2003 Arkansas General Assembly. More than 350 principals from across the state have participated in Phase 1 of the program, Peer said. Of those, 80 principals have continued through the three-year process and completed Phase III, with 21 earning the Master Principal designation.

Three other principals achieved Master Principal status Monday, including Lori Griffin of Elgin B. Milton Primary School in Ozark, Tanya Sharp of Elm Tree Elementary in Bentonville and Brenda Tash of Center Valley Elementary in Russellville.