A sense of continuity returned to the Key West Collegiate Academy Friday, with the arrival in town of interim Principal Marianella Mesa.
Mesa, an assistant principal at Doral Academy High School in Miami, takes the helm of the tuition-free charter high school following the death of former Principal Adri Stewart, who shot herself at a Broward County shooting range on Dec. 26.
"Our goal is to give stability to the school," Mesa said. "Everything is going to continue as it was before. Any upcoming activities will take place as planned. We're going to make sure that the kids are getting ready for college, for their FCATs, EOCs, APs, and SATs. We're not going anywhere."
Mesa was part of the original team of educators, including Stewart, who came to Key West in March of last year to try to turn around the fortunes of the fledgling institution, which is on the campus of Florida Keys Community College.
Shortly after opening its doors to students in the fall of 2011, the school experienced a crisis of leadership, as parents clashed over the school's charter and administration. Local education advocates John Padget and Todd German brought in the Academica Corporation to manage the school, leading to a period of stability and progress. Stewart became the school's third principal in August. Since her death, the school's two guidance counselors have been providing solace to pupils and parents alike.
"This was a tragedy that would be difficult for anyone to deal with," said German, who chairs the school's board of directors. "But we're going to get through this, and keep on improving the school for the students. Academica has donated six figures to the school. They've been great. And we'll be meeting with John Padget, who's as committed as ever, later on."
Absent at a short meeting Friday at the school's administrative office were three of Academica's leading lights.
Company CEO Fernando "Fern" Zulueta, and COO Victor Barrosso, as well as Doug Rodriguez, who serves as principal at Doral Academy, were unable to attend after their flight was turned away from Key West International Airport due to inclement weather. The trio had planned the trip to show solidarity with the school, its interim principal, and the community in the wake of Stewart's passing.
"As far as the school is concerned, it's a wonderful program," Zulueta said in a phone interview. "Last year, they did very well. At Academica, we're committed to providing all the resources they need. In honor of Adri's memory, we're going to make it work."
Mesa herself is no stranger to the school. She had worked closely with Stewart in making the changes needed to turn Key West Collegiate around, and had come to Key West on a number of occasions to help out with the math and reading curriculum.
She'll be rotating the position with other Academica personnel every two weeks.
Rodriguez will return to Key West next week for a board meeting Friday morning, but German predicted the gathering would be a routine affair.
"I wouldn't expect anything earth-shattering happening there," he said. "We're not planning to change anything."