Principal Amber Acevedo gears up in her office at KWHS for another busy school year. SARAH THOMAS/Keys Weekly

Principal Amber Archer Acevedo has the hang of “back to school”—she’s been doing it nearly every year of her life. After graduating from college, she started in elementary education, teaching first grade, and has gone on to work in education for 35 years. Acevedo is starting her ninth year as principal of Key West High School, and not without some fanfare. KWHS received an “A” grade from the state, based on student performance on the Florida Standards Assessment statewide exams, as well as advanced placement exams. It’s KWHS’ second year to score an “A.” Last but not least, KWHS earned a Bubba Award for Best School and Acevedo took home the Bubba for Best Teacher or Administrator. Sadly (for us, not her!), this is Acevedo’s last year as principal, so we caught up with her as she looks ahead to one last fall going back to school.

What are the unique challenges of Key West High School? I think the unique challenges are reaching the population of struggling students and ELL (English Language Learner) students where language is a barrier. Those are two of our big focus areas. In high school, some of the challenge is reaching students that aren’t motivated — and that’s non-quantifiable, so to speak. It’s about reaching and teaching those students that have been discouraged. 

Factors like high cost of living contributed to a pretty high teacher turnover in the Keys. How do you view that issue as principal? I will say that over the past three years, we have had anywhere from 12 to 18 new teachers at a time, and many do come with experience. But regardless of experience, the exchange of ideas is always a re-energizing point — to make the new teachers feel welcome and the veteran teachers learn something new. New teachers are a large contingency, even though our staff is almost 90 teachers. I think the learning from each other and the exchange of ideas help our teaching staff. 

What changes can students or parents look out for? I think they’ll definitely see a step up in safety. Such as: the front door will now be a “buzz in;” students have to show ID at the front gate; there will be more training for students and staff. Parents and students should look out for more info on that topic, which will be ever-evolving. 

What are the big dates that should be on community calendars? School started Wednesday, Aug. 14. Our open house is Sept. 5, and we end the evening with a bonfire, which the community is welcome to come to at 7 p.m. 

What are you most proud of KWHS for achieving last year? It’s great that we came back and celebrated that we had earned an “A” for the second time, which means the students are learning. And we were proud of the Bubba Award, because that’s a community award. We also received the Sportsmanship Award from the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) for athletics, so there were a lot of things to come back and celebrate. 

Any notable changes in curriculum or AP Tests? Our advanced placement curriculum is pretty steady and has been consistent to what it was last year. Our career tracks are going strong, too. Our engineering track is building and our auto mechanics track is building. The school is strong — we’re moving forward, and as we say, we stay “committed to excellence.” 

How many were in last year’s class of graduating seniors? How many can we expect this year? There were 276 graduating seniors last year, and while I don’t have an exact number yet, we average between 260-280 a year. Our enrollment is up — we’re up to 1,270+ kids in the school.

Anything else to add? This is my last year! What am I going to do with all the time? 

Thanks to Principal Acevedo and the KWHS staff—Good luck on another great school year.

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