Finalists Announced for Principal of the Year

School District Announces Finalists for Principal of the Year
Posted on 11/30/2018
Principal of the Year Finalists with Dr. FennoyThe School District has announced its four finalists for Principal of the Year for Palm Beach County Schools. They are David Alfonso from Palm Beach Lakes Community High School, Lisa Lee from Orchard View Elementary School, Tarachell Thomas of Pine Jog Elementary School and Kimberly Thomasson of Gove Elementary School.

Each candidate exemplifies transformative leadership, not only by improving their schools academically but also by elevating the culture of their schools. Each fosters a sense of pride among the faculty and students who share and celebrate their success.

David Alfonso, Palm Beach Lakes Community High School
When approached by District leadership in 2016 to take the helm of, then, struggling Palm Beach Lakes High School, Alfonso says he said yes without hesitation. The school was facing years of low student and teacher morale, lack of student discipline, a breakdown in systems across the school and the school was near failing, being placed on the Differentiated Accountability list to be monitored by the District and State.

Alfonso came into the school sharing his career-long mantra– Make Success Unavoidable. Now, two years later, the school has seen a complete transformation in morale, culture, and academics; including significant learning gains in each subject and a graduation rate expected to reach 90 percent by the end of this school year.

Because he believes that “relationships with students are key to keeping peace at Lakes,” Alfonso greets each student daily with a handshake and says he knows every student, nearly 2,500 of them, by name. By implementing clear expectations and goals, reaffirming the excellence of the school and every student’s ability to learn, students are taking ownership of their success and pride in the school.

Lisa Lee, Orchard View Elementary School
When asked to take over the D-rated Orchard View Elementary School that was close to a State Turnover Program, Lee admits she was scared. When she took over the challenged school in 2016, she knew she would have to be everywhere on campus and make herself known to students and the staff.

From her belief that “all children can learn,” Lee quickly made changes to systems that she believed were not working and started to incentivize the staff and students to achieve success.

“An important role for me at Orchard was to prove that our kids could not just increase their academics/testing grades, but do anything we put in front of them, even specialized programs that other schools have,” she says. “I insisted that our students deserve them, and would reach our expectations if we believed.” Lee implemented hands-on learning, including project-based learning, a violin/strings program and teaching gardens.

Since the changes, the school grade has increased to a B and learning gains increased by 49 points in every area of school grading.

Tarachell Thomas, Pine Jog Elementary School
The first day of school in 2015 was also Thomas’ first day as principal, and right away her presence was noticed. Several students said they had never seen a minority woman in a leadership role. “That made it more important for me to ensure all students got all they needed to have a successful educational career.”

The historically A-rated school had started to falter and when Thomas arrived. “Plans were already made and in place, and my assignment was to steer the ship.” Unfortunately, while she followed those plans, the school continued to struggle and when it fell to a C, Thomas says that it was the lowest, but also the most pivotal point in her career.

Because of the changes she made to the culture of the school, she knew she could set clear goals for staff and students, and that parents would also see her vision. “Everyone was accountable to each other and had a responsibility to help.” With that vision, the school grade rose from a C to an A over a single school year.

“I was permitted to demonstrate a passion about education and to prepare students for global learning,” Thomas says. And she says her continued goal moving forward is to maintain the school’s A rating.

Kimberly A. Thomasson, Gove Elementary School
When Kimberly Thomasson assumed her leadership position at Gove Elementary School in 2016, she immediately noticed that students rarely held their head up as they walked through halls. “While I heard students were not happy, observing it first-hand gave me a new perspective and a different motivation,” Thomasson recalls.

Thomasson had been at Gove Elementary School in the 1990s as a kindergarten teacher and reading coach and saw the success of the students as the school implemented the District’s first dual language program. However, over the years, the dual language program had been altered and student performance paid the price. The school’s grade fell to a D rating for two consecutive years.

Thomasson started by refocusing the Spanish dual language program to build a strong linguistic foundation for Kindergarten and first grade. Each year, the school has continued to grow the program to provide an opportunity for every child to learn in Spanish. Additionally, she added a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) class to the school’s fine arts wheel providing hands-on opportunities for students in Science lessons.

Teachers have become more focused on academic success and the students have realized learning gains of 89 points. With continued growth, the school will see its grade increase to a C and eventually a B in the near future.

Another noticeable change, students have a reason to look up and smile as Thomasson and other staff members greet them every day. “As we continue to grow, my expectations remains the same,” Thomasson says. “I expect excellence for all!”

The finalists will be honored, and the winner of the District’s Principal of the Year will be named, at a special reception on January 24 at Manatee Lagoon, an FPL Eco-Discovery Center.
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