Monarch High principal James Neer advocates for his students

For the principal of Monarch High School, the highlight of last school year actually happened during the summer break. Each year, James Neer follows up with students who didn’t graduate in June. This time, a student came to him. He showed the principal his ACT scores, believing he had reached the requirement to receive his diploma. Neer helped him confirm the news and says that what happened next captures what he tries to foster at the school.

“The student grabs me and hugs me and starts crying. He was so proud that he got his high school diploma,” Neer says. “And … that’s one kid. ”

Since becoming principal in 2009, Neer made it his goal to increase school spirit, academic progress and student achievement. Others have noticed the efforts. Last year, Neer was one of nine Florida principals given the Principal Leadership Award from Florida TaxWatch. The recognition is based on student performance data in communities with high-risk factors.

Despite Monarch’s risk factors (high numbers of disabled students, English-language learners, and students who receive free or reduced lunch), Neer says the school has made steady progress thanks to its focus on literacy.

Lifestyle went to the principal’s office to learn about what else Neer believes—other than being a high school principal is “the best job in America.”

The ABCs: “My philosophy as principal is, you’ve got three main groups. You’ve got the student group. Then you’ve got their parents along with the community: the city commission, business owners—all the stakeholders. The third group is obviously the teachers and staff.

“The paradox is that my focus as principal is we’re ‘kids first.’ It’s all about the kids. I try to give those kids the extra ear. I keep my doors open for all three groups, but my heart is with the kids. That’s my No. 1 priority.

“I think if kids feel that they’re No. 1, and you’re here for them, they’re going to respond to that. … So me being in the school play or dressing up for spirit days or playing music for the kids or admitting my faults and my weaknesses to kids really puts them at ease. And I think that’s created the culture—coupled with our increased academic focus—to really make this a special place.”

On the award: “It certainly validated our hard work. … I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud the moment I received the award. But it’s not really about me. It goes back to the culture we’ve created here, and it goes back to the groups: the kids, the parents and community, and the teachers. The award goes to them and it goes to the kids—we have some very hard-working kids. The best parents—resilient in these tough economic times we’ve been through in the last 10 years—[are those] who bring their kids here and really entrench some good values. … You culminate that with the best teaching staff in Broward County.”

Go Knights: “We’re really trying to create some more career and technical education programs at our school. We’d like to increase that to go along with our advanced placement courses. We’d also like to get some dual-enrollment courses on our campus. Combined with the literacy focus in our younger grades, we’ve got our hands full to continue the improvement of Monarch High.”

School Days

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  • Kevin Finan, a machining instructor at Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School, recently received the FLATE Award for Distinguished Manufacturing Post-Secondary Educator-of-the-Year. The award is from the Florida Association for Career and Technical Education and the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center.
  • Coconut Creek High School was recently featured on WSVN-Channel 7’s “Brag About Your School” segment. It highlighted the Creek Technical Academy and showed off the work of students in the mechanical engineering class. Watch it at wsvn.com. Broward County Public Schools Superintendent
  • Robert W. Runcie was named superintendent of the year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators. Runcie received the award in recognition of his efforts on behalf of African-American students, including creating the Black Male Taskforce and the Office of Equity and Academic Attainment.
  • Registration for Creek Technical Academy is now open through Feb. 8. To learn more about the magnet program, check out the open house Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. and contact Jill Ridinger at 754.322.0416.
  • Monarch High School’s marching band made school history after finishing in third place in their division at the Florida Marching Band Coalition 2016 Finals.