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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
New leaders take over as school begins

MONROE COUNTY -- New principals will be among the significant changes at Florida Keys schools as the 2014-15 school year commences Monday, Aug. 18. For some local schools, though, it will mainly be business as usual.Coral Shores High School

A late summer principal change is the biggest news at the Upper Keys' only public high school as classes get underway.

The school district announced Monday that Dave Murphy will step down after three years as the Coral Shores chief to take a job as the district's assessment and accountability director.

Blake Fry, who has been an assistant Coral Shores principal for a decade, will serve as interim principal for the 2014-15 year.

"I know he will provide the leadership to keep Coral Shores on the path established by his predecessor, but will also add his personal leadership touch to a school he knows very well," Superintendent Mark Porter said in a prepared statement Monday.

There will also be new faces at the high school this year, as the school has added five teachers as well as a new band director.

Pamela Joy Harden, from Westminster Christian in Miami, will take over band directing duties from Robert Sax, who left at the end of last year to teach in Asia. Harden has a background in music technology and sound engineering, Murphy said last week, prior to stepping down.

This year the school plans on extending its AVID program, which is designed for college-bound students who are not enrolled in honors or advanced placement courses. Last school year, AVID was available to just freshmen, but this year it will be offered to sophomores as well.

The school is also starting a freshman seminar course for students to improve organizational and writing skills.

This year's student body is at 750, about the same as last year, Murphy said.

Freshman orientation is from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, for students with a last name ending in A through L, and from 10 a.m. to noon for students with names ending in M through Z. Locker rental will be available from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 15.

Classes are from 7:35 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 853-3222 for more information.

Island Christian

Jason Harrison, who last January became the fourth Island Christian School principal in less than two years, begins his first full year at the private school's helm on Aug. 18. It should be an eventful one.

High school students will have a choice of three new dual-enrollment classes, offered in conjunction with Florida Keys Community College, up from just one last year. Eight-man football and wrestling teams will be new sports offerings. And ICS is also launching a reading club in its elementary school, a forestry and wildlife club, an astronomy club and a chapter of the national Girls on the Run club.

In addition, June marked the opening of the ICS nursery, which serves babies and toddlers from the ages of 6 months to 3 years old. With the nursery in operation, children can attend Island Christian beginning as infants and continuing through high school graduation.

To accommodate the nursery opening, the school has moved its fourth through sixth grade classes from its affiliated Island Community Church building to the main school campus. Pre-K, in turn, has been moved to the church.

Harrison said that ICS parents have handled all the changes well, including the frequent leadership turnover.

"That makes it much easier to deal with," he said.

Enrollment, he said, is expected to be more than 200 this year, up from a low of 135 seven years ago. New student orientation will be held at the gymnasium from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15.

The ICS school day runs from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Call 664-4933 for more information.

Key Largo School

Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Key Largo School this year will have the opportunity to become certified in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, according to Principal Laura Lietaert.

Lietaert, formerly the school's assistant principal, takes over for Julia Hoar, who left the pre-K through eighth school last year. The new principal says she is still getting a feel for the post.

"The biggest change is that now I spend more time working with adults," Lietaert told the Free Press. "I want to make sure I stay in touch with the kids and make it into every classroom at least once a week."

Like last year, the school is also offering Spanish to students in kindergarten through fifth grades. For the first time this year, the school will offer AVID courses, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. These courses are designed to begin preparing college-bound middle school students for the challenges of high school.

For younger students, a new playground has been installed and opened during the summer. And also starting this year, the school has hired an English language paraprofessional, whose job is to communicate directly with parents and students who use Spanish as their primary language. The school is also gaining three teachers this year.

An after-school program continues this year and is offered through YMCA for a fee. That care is available until 6 p.m. and a sliding scale based on income is available to make it more affordable, according to the school.

This year's student body sits at about 830 students. The school day is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call 453-1255.

Marathon Middle High School

The new principal at Marathon Middle High School is nevertheless a familiar face. Wendy McPherson takes over from predecessor Hammond Gracy after a two-year run as assistant principal at Sugarloaf School on Summerland Key. Prior to that, McPherson served for four years as the Marathon assistant principal.

As she takes over the principal post, 10 out Marathon's 40 teachers will be new. The school will also have two new technical programs, one at the high school level and one at the middle school level.

The high school course is called "Computing for Colleges and Careers."

"I was able to hire a teacher who fits that qualification," McPherson said.

The middle school course offers industry certification in the use of Microsoft software, McPherson said, adding that such vocational courses of the modern era replace old offerings such as shop.

Something else that is new at Marathon Middle High School this year is that students will be allowed to hook their iPhones and other devices into the school's network. When they do so, they'll be able to save group projects to the cloud network, making collaboration easier.

Conversely, the school will better be able to monitor the students' Internet behavior, McPherson said.

Enrollment this year is expected to be approximately 600, similar to last year. Marathon Middle High School is hosting its Meet the Teachers event from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15.

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

Plantation Key School

Entering her second year as Plantation Key School principal, Lisa Taylor said her pre-K through eighth grade school has spent the summer upgrading its facilities.

"We have some major upgrades," she said.

The middle school building has been painted and entirely re-tiled. New goals have been places on the basketball courts. The school also installed shade tents to create an outdoor learning opportunity, according to Taylor.

Taylor said the school is also participating in a district-wide program to prevent bullying.

"It's about being responsible and being safe," she said.

In the classroom, schoolwide Spanish classes will be taught. As with other middle schools in the district, students will also have the opportunity to become certified in Microsoft software. The school's science department also has added an electronic microscope and, through a grant, the school received 47 computers. It also has iPads and mini-iPads for its ESE pre-K program.

In addition to the programs, the school will have five new staff members, including a dean of students, Lara House, who joins PKS after 12 years at Key Largo School.

This year's student body is at 470 students. Class hours are 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. For more information, call 853-3281.

Stanley Switlik Elementary School

Marathon's elementary school will have a second-in-charge in 2014-15, the first time in three years that it has had that luxury.

Christina Rodriguez joins the staff of Stanley Switlik as dean of students, a position that will have her functioning in a similar capacity to an assistant principal. She moved from the school district in Atlanta, where she was a department leader for the English Language Learners program, said Stanley Switlik Principal Brett Unke.

Five new teachers will also join the Stanley Switlik staff this year.

"We're really excited about the talent we've been able to draw to our school," Unke said.

He added that he's especially pleased that Stanley Switlik received funding for an extra teaching position, tasked specifically with assisting struggling learners. The school was A-rated last year, but 70 percent of its children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Unke said a goal this year is to bring up Stanley Switlik's math testing scores.

He expects enrollment to exceed 550 students, up from 545 at the end of last year.

The school is hosting its Meet the Teachers event between 1:30 and 2:30 Friday, Aug. 15. Classes are 8:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. Breakfast begins at 8:10 a.m. Call 289-2490 for more information.

Treasure Village Montessori

Kelly Mangel is starting her second year at the helm of this Upper Keys public charter school and wants to put more of a priority this year into environmental science. Middle school students at Treasure Village Montessori will work on mangrove restoration as well as with Florida International University to study water salinity.

The school also plans on integrating field trips into its coursework, including viewing a Broadway play in Miami, a trip to Fairchild Botanical Gardens and a visit to The Key Players in Key Largo. Other trips not yet scheduled include visits to local restaurants.

A leadership group of students is also being put together to conduct community service projects throughout the year, including providing assistance to the less fortunate during the holidays.

"We also want to focus more on art and music classes this year," Mangel said.

The school is also in the process of trying to create a one-to-one ratio of electronic tablets. Mangel added that the county is moving in the direction of allowing students to bring their own electronic devices in for classwork.

This year's student body is projected to be 220. Classes for third graders and younger run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Classes for fourth through eighth graders begin at 8 a.m. with the same release time. Call 852-3482 for more information.

Big Pine Academy

It will be status quo for Big Pine's pre-K through eighth grade public charter school this year.

"Everything's the same," said Executive Director Cathy Hoffman, noting that Big Pine Academy has been A-rated for seven of the past eight years. "We are continuing to push high standards."

The only real changes for 2014-15, she said, will be the addition of a second class at the second grade level and the return of Melissa Wallace as the kindergarten teacher after a two-year hiatus as a stay-at-home mom. Enrollment this year is approximately 180, down from 190 at the start of last year, Hoffman said.

School hours are 8:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Call 872-1266 for more information.

Ocean Studies Charter

The student body has grown from 98 to 108 students at the Ocean Studies Charter school with the addition of fifth grade. Classes begin Aug. 25 at the Tavernier-based school.

The school, under the direction of Principal Jenn Flores, is also adding daily Spanish classes for fourth and fifth grade students.

Continuation of the Singapore math program, a more hands-on approach to teaching math, is set for this year.

The school will also continue weekly field trips to Island Dolphin Care. Local photographer Jack Grove will also be stopping by throughout the semester to teach the students.

This year, the school is also expected to gain accreditation through the Southern Accreditation of Colleges and Schools. Flores described the process as drawn out with an intense look at the school's curriculum.

"We think it can happen this year," Flores said. "It will also help with grants."

Open house is Aug. 22 from 10 a.m. to noon. School hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call 852-7700.

jgore@keysnews.com

rsilk@keysnews.com

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