Back to school — one way or another

Officials make plans, survey parents

Terri Axford

Incoming Schools Superintendent Terri Axford will take the educational reins of the county school district on July 31. She inherits a changed and still-changing world.

Superintendent Mark Porter, who has been at the helm since August 2012, chose not to seek a renewal of his contract from the county school board. 

Monroe County School District’s back-to-school task force is working on plans to reopen school campuses in a manner that protects staff and students while giving parents the option to continue online learning or have their kids return to campus.

Mark Porter

The task force, which includes education and public health officials, along with parent and community representatives, is charged with the unprecedented task of safely reopening schools in the midst of the current and continuing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Axford said she wants parents to know that “the task force is considering multiple options to satisfy the needs of Monroe County students, and both an in-person and virtual option for school will be available when school starts again on Aug. 13.”

“The most important work of the task force is to meet students’, parents’ and teachers’ needs during this time,” Axford emphasized.

She and other school officials earlier this month assembled a survey to ask families, faculty members and school district staff about their preferences for school and work attendance. That survey ended on June 12 and the results are being compiled to gauge parents’ enthusiasm for online learning or a return to physical classrooms. The survey, which was offered in English, Spanish and Creole, also asked families about their internet access and computer capabilities.

The back-to-school task force is chaired by Axford, and includes five committees, chaired by  Harry Russell (community coordination, athletics, large events); Pat Lefere (health, safety, food service, maintenance, transportation); Daliana Goins (mental health, support strategies); Frannie Herrin (achievement gaps, academic schedules, accountability, social distancing); and Kristen Condella (virtual instruction and transitioning back to school). 

Russell, a Key West native and product of Monroe County public schools, was the principal of Sugarloaf School, and has now been promoted to executive director for personnel support and instructional leadership.

He’ll take over from the retiring Ramon Dawkins, but with added responsibilities, Porter said.

“In addition to coordinating the human resource functions for the district, Russell’s new position includes the development and enhancement of creative leadership opportunities in schools,” Porter said. 

The coming school year will bring other leadership changes within some of the schools and the administrative headquarters: Christina McPherson will leave the principal position at Horace O’Bryant School in Key West to replace the retiring Amber Archer Acevedo as principal of  Key West High School. Longtime HOB assistant principal Denise Santiago will become principal. Fran Herrin, former principal of Gerald Adams Elementary, is the district’s new executive director of teaching and learning, the job Axford formerly held. Former Gerald Adams assistant principal Kyle Sheer will replace Herrin and Brett Unke, who had been principal at Stanley Switlik Elementary in Marathon, will replace Russell as principal of Sugarloaf School.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.