Florida Keys News
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Students to see many new faces

FLORIDA KEYS — Children and young adults will soon be trading in their summertime freedom for classroom studies and afterschool activities as the 2016-17 school year commences for Monroe County schools on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

This start will not only put students in new classrooms and environments, but it will showcase many fresh faces on faculty and staff for schools throughout the Florida Keys. The new session brings about two new principals, one new assistant principal and 91 new teachers and administrative personnel from Key Largo through Marathon.

Key Largo School

Students at KLS will notice a handful of new faces around campus beginning in the front office with Assistant Principal Cheryl Conley. She has replaced Tiffany Sheer, who moved out-of-state. Aside from Conley, 17 new teachers will be beginning their time at the school.

“It’s definitely an atypical occurrence,” KLS Principal Laura Lietaert said of the new hires.

She equated retirements and in-county school transfers as two of the big reasons for the major overhaul.

Other changes at KLS include an updated dress code, a new exterior paint job for the school and revamped outdoor basketball/volleyball courts. With the former, Lietaert said students are now allowed to wear any color polo shirt. Previously, they had to conform to school colors.

Lietaert also pointed out a recent success for KLS.

“We were certified as an AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination] school this past summer,” Lietaert said.

This program will turn KLS into a national demonstration school that other educators visit and learn from. It’s a two-year process, she said. The middle school was already previously certified as such.

The KLS student body for 2016-17, which encompasses kindergarten through eighth grade, is estimated to be at 860. This number is a bit lower than the 2015-16 school year, according to Lietaert.

The day for KLS students runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. An open house is set for 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, at its campus at 104801 Overseas Hwy. For more information, call 305-453-1255.

Ocean Studies Charter

Students at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier will notice just a few new faces around campus beginning in the front office with Principal Abbie Freeman. She has replaced Jennifer Flores. Aside from Freeman, four new teachers and one new office manager will be beginning their time at the school.

“I’m really excited about building on the foundation that’s already in place here,” Freeman said.

For the past four years, Freeman was principal at a public elementary school in Alabama.

One of the new teachers brought onboard, according to Freeman, will also help extend the marine science program at OSCS — a key component in studies there.

Freeman said there were no other changes outside of those for the upcoming year.

The OSCS student body, which encompasses kindergarten through fifth grade, is estimated to be at 113. This number is a bit higher than the 2015-16 school year when there were 105 students, according to Freeman.

The day for OSCS students runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. An open house is set for 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at its campus at 92295 Overseas Hwy. For more information, call 305-852-7700.

Coral Shores High School

“We’re looking forward to continued success,” said Coral Shores High School Principal Blake Fry about the start of the year for the Upper Keys school. “Our teachers and students have done a phenomenal job with the state adopting new standards of criteria.” 

Fry pointed that with a new grading assessment system, Coral Shores got an A from the state last year.

Teachers received training during the week before the first day of school for a new software system called Focus, which takes care of student information such as academic records and attendance. “Once it’s fully implemented, it’ll be incredible,” said Fry.

The software is intended to help staff get a handle on the larger student population, which is up to 764. Coral Shores ended last year with 706 students. 

Twelve new teachers will be walking the halls, as well. Seven teachers have been replaced, but the school has also added five new positions in the subjects of math, science and social studies. A new addition to the sports program is Kathy Ets-Hokin, an exceptional-student education teacher on staff who is replacing Chad Gardner as the volleyball coach. Gardner passed away suddenly last year.

Also departing is Scott “PACman” Cockrell, who has run the Coral Shores Performing Arts Center for the past 10 years.

The 2016-17 school year will also see the first graduating class of AVID students. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a program that helps students who have college potential but need more support to increase their academic levels.

An open house will be scheduled on a date to be determined in late August. School hours are 7:35 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 305-853-3222 for more information.

Plantation Key School

For Plantation Key School Principal Lisa Taylor, 2016-17 is all about upholding standards while the new public school is being constructed on the property. 

“We’re downsized into two buildings and four portable classrooms,” she pointed out. “Our theme this year is continuing our academic rigor. It’s what makes PKS a great school. Other than the physical space, we’re pumping up programs as much as we can. There won’t be much change.”

Taylor said the main teaching building will be move-in ready in August 2019, while the grounds will be finished the year after.

As for the programs at PKS, which enrolls students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, Taylor said a few changes are in store. The school now offers high school Spanish for eighth-graders and has expanded the science and technology curriculum for sixth to eighth grade. The physical education department has added yoga, and elementary students can now take band. The student population is roughly the same as last year, Taylor said, at 453.

Also on tap for this year is a new dress code inspired by the students. 

“The students and staff worked together closely to make it gender neutral,” Taylor explained. “The girls wanted it to be fair to everybody.”

Seventeen new teachers include 11 added positions in kindergarten through eighth grade, in part due to funding. 

“The school budget was better,” Taylor explained. “We were granted an allocation for gifted and talented students.”

An open house will be scheduled on a date to be determined. School hours are 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Call 305-853-3281 for more information.

Treasure Village Montessori

Principal Kelly Mangel is kicking off her fourth year at the helm of Treasure Village Montessori, and she said she is still inspired by the first day of school. 

“The excitement that the staff and students bring is energizing,” she said. “I am always excited and filled with anticipation about what a new year will hold.”

For the 2016-17 school year, the Islamorada-based public charter school will have four new staff members: a voluntary pre-kindergarten co-teacher, a middle-school language arts co-teacher, a paraprofessional and a lead teacher for first and second grade. The student population, which consists of VPK through eighth-grade students, is holding steady at 220.

The biggest development at TVM is an expanded science curriculum for all age levels called “Engineering is Elementary.” Created by the Museum of Science in Boston, the program is intended to boost all children’s natural curiosity for building objects and thus inspire them to study subjects such as science and technology. The curriculum will encourage students to share ideas by speaking, writing, drawing and building.

School hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for students from kindergarten to third grade, and 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for students from fourth to eighth grade. Call 305-852-3482 for more information.

Island Christian School

Jodi Martin has a special reason to be enthusiastic about the start of classes at Islamorada’s private Island Christian School — it is her first serving as the private school’s head master. 

Jason Harrison, the school’s last top administrator, left last May after accepting a position as a pastor for a church in Texas.

“I’ve been a part of the school for last six years, so I love the school. I love the staff and the kids,” Martin said. “I’m excited about starting as an administrator.” 

Martin was formerly a sixth-grade teacher at ICS, which enrolls children of all ages — from six-week-old babies to 12th-graders. The current student population sits at about 230.

She has a master’s degree in elementary education from Nova Southeastern University and 29 years of military experience, which she says directly influenced her decision to make changes in the ICS Bible-study curriculum for 2016-17. All ICS students begin each day in Bible class, but ninth- through 12th-graders will be especially affected by the changes.

“I’m an Army reservist,” she said. “I got back from a three-year tour of Afghanistan a little over a year ago. I saw turmoil up close. I saw not-good choices being made on both sides. I feel like our curriculum needed to follow world events. … The relevancy had to be taken up a notch.”

Six new teachers are on the ICS roster; four of those are replacements, while two are new positions in physical education and high school English.

To start the year, all students attend a half-day of classes from 8 a.m. until noon Wednesday, Aug. 17. Junior/senior high school students and their parents can participate in a meet-and-greet in the gym at 8:00 a.m. on that day, and parents are encouraged to stay until 9 a.m. The full day of regular classes starts on Thursday, Aug. 18. School hours are 7:50 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Call 305-664-4933 for more information.

Marathon Middle/

High School

Students at Marathon Middle/High School will notice some new faces around campus beginning in the front office with Dean of Students Christine Paul. This position, which was previously vacated and now returned, will focus on discipline.

“She has already hit the ground running,” Principal Wendy McPherson said of Paul.

Aside from Paul, 11 new faculty and staff members will be beginning their time at the sixth through 12th grade center.

McPherson said they also have some improvements to strive for in 2016-17.

“We are working toward becoming an ‘A’ school,” McPherson said.

This refers a state Board of Education grade issued to all schools each session. Last year, MMHS was rated a ‘B.’ McPherson pointed out that they need to improve on their Career Technical Education courses, among other things.

A more upbeat change that middle school students should be excited about is the blended learning incorporated into the classroom. It’s a mix of textbooks and computers, according to McPherson. Each student will have their own personal portable computer to be used during the school day. She said this is an extension of a similar program done at Stanley Switlik Elementary School.

“I’m just really excited about that and this year as a whole,” McPherson said.

The MMHS student body is estimated to be at 680. This mirrors the 2015-16 school year, according to McPherson.

The day for MMHS students runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. An open house is tentatively set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, at its campus at 350 Sombrero Beach Rd. For more information, call 305-289-2480.

Stanley Switlik Elementary School

Students at Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon will notice about 15 new faculty and staff faces around campus — comprised of first-timers and veterans. The majority incoming to the school for 2016-17 are teachers mixed with some administrative personnel.

“I’m looking forward to having all the kids back on campus,” Principal Brett Unke said. “And getting to introduce or reintroduce them to our continued improvements here.”

Some of those advancements include a second-year music program and an accelerated reader program for the students.

Aside from that, Unke said it is pretty much business as usual.

The Stanley Switlik student body, which encompasses pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, is estimated to break 600. This exceeds the 2015-16 school year when the school was at roughly 580 students, according to Unke.

The day for Stanley Switlik students runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. An open house is at a yet-to-be-determined day in September at its campus at 3400 Overseas Highway. For more information, call 305-289-2490.

Big Pine Academy

Students attending Big Pine Academy can expect business as usual for the 2016-17 school year.

The executive director, in her 10th year at the helm, is Cathy Hoffman. Any new faculty or staff was not known as Hoffman did not respond to a Free Press inquiry before press time.

The BPA student body, which encompasses pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, was also unknown at press time. For the 2015-16 school year they were at around 150, according to a previous report from Hoffman.

The day for BPA students runs from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Its campus is located at 30220 Overseas Highway. For more information, call its front office at 305-872-1266.



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