Pavel said the award reflects the work and dedication of everyone connected with Central, which ranks second only to Masterman in statewide test results and has produced a long list of distinguished graduates.
"What's gratifying to me is that it basically also acknowledges all the other pieces: The kids. The staff. There is no way that anybody who is a principal does things by himself or herself," Pavel said. "It just doesn't happen."
The other winners of the Lindback Awards for Principals, to be presented at the Prince Music Theater, are: Yolanda B. Armstrong, Pepper Middle School; Charles Connor, Decatur Elementary School; Patricia A. Epps, Forrest Elementary School; David M. Kipphut, Swenson Arts and Technology High School; Charles S. Staniskis, Franklin Learning Center; and Darlene F. Vaughn, Stearne Elementary School.
Each will receive $10,000 from the foundation for their schools.
It's the first time the foundation, which honors top teachers each May, has recognized principals. The foundation also honors top teaching at colleges and universities throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Pavel will use his award to aid the school in several ways, such as supporting student clubs, buying additional material for multicultural classes, sending teachers to workshops, and creating an annual student multimedia contest.
Central, which opened in 1838, is the nation's second oldest public high school. Pavel's actual title is president because the state legislature, in recognition of Central's high academic standards, in 1849 gave the top administrator authority to confer degrees, not just diplomas.
When Pavel arrived at Central in January 1984, the school was facing a crisis. Many graduates and students were angry that a Common Pleas Court judge had ruled that the school's males-only admission policy was unconstitutional. The judge ordered the school to admit six young women who had challenged that policy, as well as others.
There were protests. Male classmates called the first women "slugs," "wenches," and worse.
"He assumed the position in a particularly critical period in the school's 174-year history," Harvey Steinberg, president of Central's alumni association, wrote in a nominating letter.
"Dr. Pavel met the challenge, welcoming the new female students, diplomatically involving the existing student body in this new adventure, and working with what was a recalcitrant group of alumni in accepting and making the school a warm and accepting environment."
Since that time, Pavel has seen plenty of changes: Females account for 53 percent of the students who attend the academic magnet school at 1700 W. Olney Ave. Total enrollment has more than doubled - from a little over 1,000 to 2,356.
Central, which draws qualified students from across the city, also is one of the district's most economically, ethnically, and racially diverse schools. It is 32 percent African American; 30.1 percent Asian; 28.4 white; 7.6 percent Latino; and 1.8 percent other.
And the school has continued to collect recognition for academic achievement, including being honored by the College Board and appearing on Newsweek's 2010 list of best American high schools.
The many nominating letters from students, parents, staff, and alumni describe Pavel's devotion to Central, his long hours, and his support for adding innovative courses and expanding extracurricular activities. His open-door policy, they wrote, extends to students as well as staff.
"Central is a large school, but Dr. Pavel makes it seem small," officers of the parents' association wrote. "No one is afraid to talk to Dr. Pavel. He drops in everywhere and anywhere at any time."
On Monday morning, Pavel took one of his typical meandering walks through the building. He visited a digital art class, dropped in on assistant principals, asked seniors about their college acceptances, and chatted up students seated in groups in the hallways who were reviewing assignments and preparing for calculus exams.
"Diamond, where's the rest of your clothes?" Pavel teased a senior who was tugging at her short skirt.
"I lost them!" Diamond Phillips said with a laugh. "I'm showing everybody what summer looks like on a spring day."
On this morning, Pavel also went out of his way to see teachers who have been on staff for less than three years. A few hours earlier, he had told Central's instructional cabinet that preliminary figures from the district indicated that the school's budget would be cut by around $700,000 next year because of the district's fiscal troubles.
Many factors are still unknown, but Pavel wanted to reassure the 22 most vulnerable teachers that he hoped to save their jobs.
"I can't ease everybody's concern," he said. "I can just tell them the truth."
Despite the budget uncertainties, Pavel was upbeat. He showed off the $4.5 million library the alumni association built in 2005, but was most proud of the fact that as of Monday morning, Central students had logged 113,261 visits to it this academic year.
"I love this school," Pavel said. "I love the kids. I love the staff, the parents, and the alumni. . . . It's a unique place, and it has been my privilege to be here. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at email@example.com.