As new teachers strolled the quiet halls preparing for their students’ return, new Marathon High School Principal Hammond Gracy insisted that this past Monday was not about hanging posters or arranging classrooms. His focus will be on taking MHS to the next level.
“My goal is not to be the top school in the country but in America,” he proudly stated. “We’re already good, but we’re going to be great. We just need a clear focus to get to the next level.”
Gracy and his wife, Jeannie, brought their three daughters to the Middle Keys from Atlantic Beach in the Jacksonville area where he was the head of Samuel W. Wolfson High School with 1,900 students. The last graduating class to which he granted the students’ their diplomas was over 400 strong, so he’s eagerly anticipating the opportunity to get to know each of the 600 students at MHS on a more individual level.
Having earned both his undergraduate and Master’s degrees at the University of North Florida, Gracy said he still considers himself a Florida Gator. In 1978, he began his career in education as a teacher and coach in Duval County, and over the next two decades, collected a wealth of classroom instruction and head coaching experience. He eventually advanced to a Career Resource Specialist and then became responsible for development, planning, and implementation of curriculum across the county.
“I have a simple philosophy that the education we provide should be good enough for our own children,” he elaborated.
The very definition of principal means he is the head master or the principal teacher.
“I’m not just the manager of the school,” he continued. “It’s always funny when you walk into the classroom and begin teaching and students are surprised. All administrators were once classroom teachers.”
In light of last year’s upheaval with the school board and superintendent, The Weekly asked Gracy how he intended to restore any deteriorated confidence within the system.
“So far, I haven’t found any parent or teacher morale or confidence to be lacking. Everyone I’ve met so far has been very supportive,” he responded. “What occurs off school grounds is not the major concern. I’m a steward of the resources of this county, and our children are our greatest resource.”
The prospect of working under Dr. Joseph Burke also drew Gracy to the position at MHS.
“I’d never met him before, but I knew of his reputation,” he confirmed. “He’s among the top school superintendents in the country.”
The son of a retired Naval officer, Gracy actually attended second grade at May Sands in Key West before a transfer set the family to California. He met Jeannie while still in the classroom; she was an art teacher. The couple has three girls – 11 and 10-year-old twins – and 28 years of marriage. The opportunity to move his family to the Keys, Gracy insisted, has been primarily about a lifestyle change for his family.
Twenty-seven miles of expressways and cross-town driving each way between his home and his large urban high school in Jacksonville left little time for him to see his girls grow.
“I guess I’m kind of boring,” he laughed, elaborating that the majority of his time will be spent at school with the remainder dedicated to his children. “I believe in a strong work ethic, so I need to be on campus and very visible.”