Key West High School Principal Amber Archer Acevedo retires June 30 after 36 years with the Monroe County School District. She leaves the county’s largest high school in the “good and capable hands” of Christina McPherson, who leaves her post as principal of Horace O’Bryant School to handle the high school, where she previously served as assistant principal. Keys Weekly asked Acevedo to share some of her best memories and biggest challenges.

Give us a little background about yourself. I was born and raised in Key West. I attended Poinciana Elementary, where I later became principal, Horace O’Bryant Middle School and Key West High School, where I also became principal. I have a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

When did you know you wanted to go into education? I always loved playing teacher when I was young, and I come from a family of educators. My grandfather, Glynn R. Archer, was chairman of the school board, and had the school on White Street  [now Key West City Hall] named for him. My dad, Glynn R. Archer, Jr. was principal of KWHS and assistant superintendent. My mom, Sandy Archer, taught for over 25 years, so I always saw education as a way to make a difference in kids’ lives and the community.

What was the most difficult event/decision you faced as a teacher and/or principal? Before March, I would have said hurricanes Wilma and Irma – both times, my schools and students were severely impacted. But this pandemic is definitely the most difficult event. Thrusting everyone into a world of isolation and virtual education overnight changed everything and required a true team effort. I must commend my amazing staff and dedicated parents for pulling together to make it happen.

What are some of your most cherished memories? On my first birthday as a teacher, my mom and dad brought a cake to share with my class, a tradition my mom continued for 35 years. Cherished memories could fill a vault: Coaching my two girls in cheerleading; working with talented educators and dearest friends; giving a diploma to a student in the Detention Center to provide hope for a better future; presenting awards and scholarships; being named Principal of the Year; winning the Key West Weekly’s Bubba Award for Best Educator, and most recently my send-off videos and gifts from my KWHS faculty truly made me feel that I had made a difference.

What’s the biggest change you witnessed in your career? Technology. When I started teaching, there were no computers in any classrooms. The rapid evolution of technology has restructured how we teach and learn. While it’s great to be able to connect so effortlessly, it also has led to challenges: cyberbullying, improper internet use, cell phones in the class, emotional well-being.

If you had total control over the American education system, what change would you make immediately? I would adequately fund education. Our kids and staff are worth it. While our county and district consistently work to give our students the best, more could be done at the state and national level. 

What’s one thing you wish parents better understood about the school system and/or its role in students’ lives? Students who have success in school are better equipped to take on the challenges of adulthood. I would encourage parents to always be involved. Read those newsletters, listen to the phone calls, ask the daily question of how did school go today.

What’s the most difficult part of being a teacher? A principal? The first priority in both positions is what’s best for the students. If you focus on that, decisions become easier. The difficult part of teaching was tailoring instruction to all levels. Kids don’t all learn in the same way on the same day. And as a principal, you have to focus on overall goals and make everyone part of the decision-making process so they  feel positive about their school community. 

What are your plans for retirement? I hope to spend more time with my family and friends without having to worry about the school calendar. I want to finish some home projects, then I’ll look for a job and volunteer opportunities, because I still feel I have a lot to contribute to the community I love.
Answer any question you wish I had asked. It takes dedication to really make an impact and my daughters, my husband, Randy, and my family have allowed me to give it my all. It’s a bittersweet end, because I still love what I do and who I work with, but they say it’s good to retire when you still love it, so this is my time. Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has touched my life – you helped me face every challenge and bring about every success.

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