It's not unusual for Tom Andrew to serve lunch to students in the cafeteria. Sometimes, he sits in the back of a classroom, observing. Often, he's coaching a student to correct a behavior problem.

All in a day's work as assistant principal at Timberview Middle School, Andrew says.

But Andrew's dedication to his job goes above and beyond the norm, according to the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The organization selected Andrew as Colorado's nominee for the 2014 National Assistant Principal of the Year. That makes him the best assistant principal in the state and in contention for the national title.

Teachers and staff learned of the news on Monday, and students found out at a surprise assembly on Thursday. Their hearty approval was deafening in the school gym.

"He's such a nice guy," said eighth grader David Pastier. "I was having trouble with bullying in sixth grade, and he took care of the problem. He nipped it in the bud."

Andrew modestly tossed out words like "honored" and "humbled."

"There are a whole lot of educators that work hard and deserve recognition," he said. "I think this is just validation of the hard work we've been doing as a team."

Andrew has been in Academy School District 20 for 15 years and is in his seventh year as one of three assistant principals at Timberview.

The 47-year-old father of two boys also taught at Carmel Middle School in Harrison School District 2 and D-20's Air Academy High School, where he specialized in health and physical education. He also served as the dean of students at Rampart High School.

But sixth, seventh and eighth graders are his passion.

"They are so willing to learn and still have such an optimistic outlook and energy to where they want to change the world," Andrew said.

Having a goofy nature and clowning around with kids is part of his M.O. So is being the disciplinarian, his favorite role.

"It's character education 101," he said. "It's where you can really make an impact. In middle school, there's a huge developmental span. They're learning to manage their emotions and communicate effectively, addressing and handling stress, anger, fear. We give them skills to help them move forward."

Andrew also directs athletics and activities, supervises teachers and oversees the school's 390 eighth graders.

His love of kids makes him shine in the spotlight - it's one of the main reasons he was chosen for the award over 534 other nominees, said Greg Benchwick, spokesman for the Colorado Association of School Executives.

Andrew's leadership abilities and the strides he's made at Timberview also were factors, he said.

Students were happy for Andrew.

"He's never one of those people who yells at kids," said Timberview eighth grader Chloe Hunninghake. "He made me feel really welcome when I first started here."

Andrew says he strives to be positive, upbeat and a good role model for all of the school's 1,100 students.

"They used to say it takes a village to raise a child," he said, "and the school has become the village. We need to surround them with positive support and help them learn."

The National Assistant Principal of the Year will be announced at a convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Feb. 6-8 in Dallas.