Meet the 2020 Principal of the Year Finalists

Meet the 2020 Principal of the Year Finalists
Posted on 12/03/2019
Principal of the Year Finalists

The School District has announced its four finalists for the 2020 Palm Beach County Principal of the Year. Each finalist was carefully selected by his or her region’s leadership team. All of the nominees have a proven track record of providing exemplary contributions to the betterment of their schools and communities. Read more about each nominee and why these outstanding educators earned the coveted nomination.


Central Region: Dr. Jesús Armas - Royal Palm Beach Community High School


When Dr. Armas assumed leadership of Royal Palm Beach Community High School in 2010, the school was rated a ‘D’ and had a poor community perception as being unsafe. The school had experienced high staff turnover and was referred to by the local newspaper as “much-maligned.” 


Armas says his first order of business was creating a vision for the school in collaboration with the staff, students and stakeholders. The goal was to meet the holistic needs of all students. 


Armas immediately put a premium on focusing on safety issues including modifying safety protocols and working with student leaders to create respectful relationships among students. Along with other changes in school culture and safety, the number of students receiving referrals to the office has decreased from 40% to 14%. 


The school’s culture shift under Armas has also shown great results with Royal Palm Beach High School earning one of the highest scores in the School Effectiveness Questionnaire that quantifies how staff and faculty are valued and treated on campus. Employee turnover has declined noticeably and the newspaper that previously described the school as maligned has characterized Royal Palm Beach High as the “Happiest High School” in the District. 


A happy school is primed for success, and under Armas’ leadership, Royal Palm Beach High has seen its number of academies and rigorous coursework expand to include a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) academy, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), Computer Gaming, International Baccalaureate (IB) and Navy JROTC. 


The enhanced curriculum also includes a push from faculty to provide more accelerated courses offered to all students, with 75% of its graduates taking accelerated coursework. That push has also led to a dramatic increase in the school’s graduation rate, from 70.9 to 92.9% during Armas’ tenure. The school is also now B-rated. 


Glades Region: Pamela Buckman - Pioneer Park Elementary School 


Pioneer Park Elementary School principal Pamela Buckman says that her school is in a rural area “as far west as you can go in Palm Beach County,” but as a native of the Glades herself, Buckman takes great pride in returning to her hometown to lead the Sugar Bears. She also understands the challenges that come with that task. When Buckman came to the school in July 2014 as a first-year principal, the school had seen five principals in six years, and not only was the school rated an “F”, but much of her staff and families didn’t seem to think that she was there to stay. Building a strong culture as a team was a priority for Buckman from the very beginning, and over time the team has implemented a School-Wide Positive Behavior Support System that has effectively reduced the number of behavioral issues on campus. Buckman has led her staff in having a more active role in decision-making and student instruction, not only leading to student success but also an increase in school morale. “By providing opportunities for my staff and me to learn together and from one another, we have developed a shift in what we expect from one another, we have developed a shift in what we expect from one another and our students,” she says. Now more than five years after taking the helm, Buckman has shown her faculty and students at Pioneer Park Elementary that she isn’t going anywhere. In return, her school has seen tremendous academic growth, raising the school’s overall score by 75 points and leading the school to earn a B-rating.


North Region: Michelle Fleming - Lake Park Elementary School


In 2016, first-time principal Michelle Fleming took her experience at Title I high schools to Lake Park Elementary, “a charming, but challenging little school that would very quickly become my mission, my passion, and my labor of love.”


While faced with the challenge of 98% of the students on free and reduced lunch, 27% English Language Learners and 11% students with disabilities, Fleming learned that not only did her students need a champion, her staff needed direction and focus to turn around the struggling school which was on the state’s list of 300 lowest-performing schools. 


Fleming started analyzing data and coming up with creative ways to engage the community and businesses to help set her students on the path to success. Fleming raised $4,500 to purchase reading support materials, and started relentless marketing efforts to secure community support in a variety of ways. 


That included a Ben Carson Reading Room, Florida Power & Light outdoor grounds remodel, BurgerFi vegetable garden, a “toy room” of rewards, book donations, an annual holiday gift sponsorship for each student, and a partnership with the Florida Dairy Farmers and Miami Dolphins. These efforts showed her students that they have the support of their community as they aim for success. 


Fleming’s next challenge was bringing in a diverse staff that mirrored the students in her school and shared the common belief that all students can succeed. Teachers have increased their collaboration under her leadership, and the school started a “Double Down” approach by putting two teachers in every intermediate class to ensure that students had small-group, high-quality, grade-level instruction. 


The teamwork under Fleming has paid off and in her first three years at Lake Park Elementary, the school has grown from being C-rated to A-rated, showing some of the highest learning gains in the School District. 


South Region: Reggie Myers - Park Vista Community High School


Growing up during segregation, Park Vista Community High School Principal Reggie Myers says that he was not exposed to rigor or acceleration in the classroom. As a result, he is determined to provide a fair and equitable education to all of his students. He took on the principalship of top-rated Park Vista High 12 years ago, knowing they had a proven record of success. However, he quickly realized that the school’s success came at the expense of his minority students with disparities between white, black, and Hispanic student achievement in the classroom. Myers knew that “to foster success, we have to reinforce an inclusive school culture that is accepting and academically challenging for all students, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, how much money they have in the bank, gender identity, or disability status.” In an environment of respect and valuing each other, Park Vista’s staff and students have flourished together. Myers says talent development is one of his most important responsibilities as principal, and as a team, they are all encouraged to be lifelong learners who collaborate within departments and throughout the school as a whole. The result has been continued student success among all students. Graduation rates have increased by 14%, with a graduation rate growth of 42% among students with disabilities and the graduation rate among black students growing 25%. Myers is a self-described servant leader who celebrates his entire school community, embracing its diversity and encouraging inclusion for all students and a culture of achievement for everyone. That mindset makes Park Vista High School, “a culture where educators and colleagues share similar visions and goals, who collaborate, challenge, and then hold each other accountable for the learning outcomes of our students.”

 

The winner for the School District will be announced on January 28, 2020 at Manatee Lagoon, a Florida Power & Light eco-discovery center. The winner will then represent the District at the state level. Last year’s District Principal of the Year was David Alfonso from Palm Beach Lakes Community High School. He went on to be named one of the state’s finalists for Principal of the Year.


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