Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
New year, new leaders

MONROE COUNTY -- Four new Upper and Middle Keys principals will greet students when the school year begins Monday. Meanwhile, two other schools are expanding their offerings to a new grade level. And the schools that haven't made major administrative or structural changes are still making strategic adjustments as the Monroe County School District implements the Common Core educational standards.

Coral Shores High

The Upper Keys' lone public high school is planning a special emphasis on ninth graders this year in an effort to boost graduation rates, Principal Dave Murphy said.

Central to that effort is the new class, called AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. The course, said Murphy, is a college preparatory class geared toward students who have ability but aren't enrolled in traditional courses for college-bound kids.

"The purpose of the course is to give them the skills so they'll be effective in all their classes," Murphy said. He added that his goal over the next couple years is to increase graduation rates at Coral Shores from the 80 to 85 percent that he says they have been running to between 90 and 95 percent.

Freshman orientation will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, for students with last names that begin with A through M. Orientation for the remaining freshmen will follow from 10 to 11 a.m.

When the full student body of approximately 750 reports to the Plantation Key campus on Aug. 19, they'll welcome a new assistant principal, Kristy Bedell, who was formerly a teacher at Plantation Key School. Bedell will join Coral Shores' other assistant principal, Blake Fry, and replace Lisa Taylor, who was promoted to Plantation Key School principal this summer.

Classes at Coral Shores run from 7:35 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 853-3222 for more information.

Marathon Middle/High

Students at Marathon Middle/High School will be sitting through seven periods this year, up one from last year. The move comes after the school, for two years, explored a six-period schedule.

"This will give the students more opportunities," said Principal Hammond Gracy, of the 600-person student body.

Like Coral Shores, Marathon will also be offering the AVID curriculum.

Gracy has selected five of the school's top educators to work with the AVID program and he recommends it for any student interested in post-secondary education.

For those students, Gracy wants his students to take advantage of Advance Placement courses. For students more interested in trades, technical classes in marine mechanics are also available.

Regarding sports, swimming, volleyball and football practice have already begun.

Classes are 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 289-2480 for details.

Plantation Key School

At Islamorada's largest elementary and middle school, the biggest change for 2013-14 is at the top.

Principal Lisa Taylor comes to the school after three years in administration at Coral Shores and a long career as a teacher up the highway at Key Largo School. But she's not planning any big shakeups at A-ranked PKS, where former Principal Vanessa Principal Vanessa Strickland served for seven years.

"We're just going to continue to meet the challenges of Common Core and bringing excellent academics to the kids," Taylor said.

The Common Core initiative allows schools more flexibility to ensure students are literate, proficient in mathematics and college- or career-ready when they graduate high school.

The school is also implementing a gifted students program after a one-year hiatus.

Building on momentum from last year, PKS will continue its MicroSociety program. The program simulates a real marketplace, with students assigned to various professions and jobs. They make faux wages and pay taxes on that money. This year, said fourth grade teacher Tisa Lall, PKS is also going to reach out to the community more with the hope that people from various fields will make presentations to the students.

Classes run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Registration was at 445 students as of late last week, down from 453 to start the 2012-13 school year. Call 853-3281 for details.

Key Largo School

A year after losing five teachers to budget cuts, Key Largo School is again fully-staffed and looking for more educators, says Principal Julia Hoar.

Hoar hired five teachers this year by way of some educators retiring, finding new employment or taking a year of absence.

Some details of the new year were still being worked out last week.

"We don't know yet how we are going to schedule our gifted program," she said. "We're also trying to teach Spanish as a second language."

Last year, the school began the college-track AVID program. Its experienced some bumps in its first year, but Hoar says it will be in full force the second go-round.

An after-school program is available to students for a fee, through the YMCA.

The student body of 845 is about the same as last year. Like the rest of the Monroe County School District, classes begin Aug. 19. The school day lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

For more information, call 453-1255.

Stanley Switlik Elementary

Taking the helm at Marathon's elementary school is Brett Unke, a district employee since 1993 who has been an assistant principal for four years.

Unke succeeds Lesley Salinero as head of Switlik, while Salinero returns to full-time administrative work as Exceptional Student Education director.

"For me, I am going to push community communication and parent involvement," the new principal said.

With academics, the biggest focus is changing from the Sunshine State Standards to the Common Core curriculum.

Unke said he has replaced one teacher since taking over and is looking for ways to revitalize the campus environment.

"Ninety percent of the staff is people I have worked with," Unke said.

The school is hosting a "Meet the Teachers" event from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16.

Class hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Call 289-2490 for more information.

Island Christian

Chris Price, 39, is the third principal in the past year at this private Islamorada pre-K through 12th grade school.

"We're looking at good stability in the upcoming years and also a good period of growth," Price said.

He moved to Islamorada in July from Meridian, Miss., where he was director of advancement at the independent Lamar School. Price replaces Jim Virtue, who was interim headmaster beginning in March. Prior to Virtue, Jim Roper, who is now a pastor at the affiliated Island Community Church, was ICS' top administrator.

Price said he expects enrollment to be between 190 and 210 when school begins Monday. The course offerings won't differ from last year.

"We're going to continue to maintain the spiritual foundation that we offer to our students," Price said.

There will, however, be enhancements to the school's media capacity. Notably, the student management system will be web-based this year. That means parents will have immediate access to updates on everything from their children's grades, to lesson plans, to nightly homework assignments.

The school day runs from 8 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. Call 664-4933 for more information.

Treasure Village Montessori

Now starting its 14th year, the Upper Keys' public charter Montessori school is making its first transition to a new principal. But the landing is likely to be a soft one for Kelly Mangel, who worked for seven years as an assistant under her predecessor Kelly Astin.

"It's going well. We're making sure everything is up and running for the kids," Mangel said.

One change that Treasure Village is implementing this year is more art and music classes. Previously, students attended those classes for just one hour per week. But this year they'll get two hours of weekly instruction.

In addition, Mangel said Treasure Village hopes to add enough tablets to its inventory by January to create a nearly 1-to-1 ratio for the 221-person student body.

Also, she said, the school will be blending subjects more than it has in the past, thanks to the greater flexibility afforded by the Common Core standards. For example, she said, where a topic like architecture might once have been primarily a subject for an art class, now it can be incorporated into history lesson, as well.

School hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Call 852-3482 for more information.

Big Pine Academy

The Big Pine Academy this year is introducing an eighth grade class as well as a second first grade class, according to the public charter school's Executive Director Cindy Hoffman.

"We're ready for another good year," Hoffman said of her roughly 200 students.

The school isn't adding teachers to make up for the additional classes, but merely making some reassignments and promoting one part-time teacher to full-time status.

As with the other public schools, Hoffman says she plans on focusing on the state Common Core and helping her students prepare for the FCAT.

Class hours are 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Call 872-1266 for more information.

Ocean Studies Charter

Enrollment has increased from 72 to 98 pupils as Ocean Studies Charter School, located at mile marker 92, oceanside, starts its third year. In addition, this public elementary school has expanded to include the fourth grade for the first time this year.

"We're really excited, our school is growing," said Principal Jenn Flores. "We are really looking forward to a great school year. We're going to have a lot of fun."

Ocean Studies plans to continue its emphasis on marine science this year, including weekly field trips to places like Island Dolphin Care, and for on-the-water learning excursions.

The flexibility of Common Core will also allow for the introduction of more cross-disciplinary learning into the field trips, Flores said. For example, the taking of measurements on the water could be used as a math lesson in lieu of a workbook exercise.

"That's going to make kids like math," she said.

Ocean Studies also has a second $175,000 federal grant to spend this year. It will be used for technology upgrades, including the acquisition of new computers, according to Flores.

School hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call 852-7700 for more information.

rsilk@keysnews.com

jgore@keysnews.com

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