The principals at Coconut Creek’s high schools discuss challenges and goals

As a new school year starts this month, the principals of Coconut Creek have been busy preparing for new students, new goals and new ways to help freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors who live not only in Creek but throughout Broward County.

Coconut Creek Lifestyle asked the principals of our local public high schools—Robert B. Crawford of Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School, Scott Fiske of Coconut Creek High School, Tracy Lockhart-Talley of Dave Thomas Education Center and James Neer of Monarch High School—to weigh in on everything from student activism to school safety issues. (Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

* The Scott Fiske image was contributed.

 

James Neer

Monarch High School

What are some things that differentiate your school that you’re particularly proud of?

[This] school year, we will be introducing our new Cambridge International Program. This program will afford more students the opportunity to earn college credit during their high school years. We also anticipate that our students will earn more college scholarship dollars as a result of this implementation.

What are some challenges you face that people wouldn’t normally know about?

We are challenged each and every year with increasing our graduation rate. Our graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year was 92.2 percent, the highest over the past six years. At Monarch, it is our vision and goal that 100 percent of our students graduate from high school, college- and career-ready.

How have school safety regulations changed for your school since the Parkland shooting? In the future, how do you plan on bringing parents and students into the discussion of instituting additional preventive safety measures?

School safety and security is, and will continue be, the top priority [this] school year. Over the past few months, I have had numerous meetings with school stakeholders to seek input on how we can improve safety and security at our school. In addition, we will be receiving more fencing and a more-secure single-point entry before the end of the calendar year. We have also hired additional security staff to increase safety measures at Monarch.

In the past year, we’ve seen a number of issues dominating national conversations, including the Me Too movement, gun reform after the Parkland shooting, DACA [the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program] and others. In light of this, do you notice students becoming more engaged in the issues of the day?

Over the past school year, students not only at Monarch but all over the United States have come together to seek change in our country. As a result, I have learned so much from these young people. I sincerely feel that this generation is going to do great things in society and bring about change.

What are some of your goals for the 2018-19 school year?

Our goal at Monarch is to provide a great high school experience for all students who walk through our doors. I want our students to look back at their high school years as some of the most memorable and best times of their lives.

 

Robert B. Crawford

Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School

What are some things that differentiate your school that you’re particularly proud of?

Atlantic Technical College is the largest technical college of Florida’s 49 public institutions. Our technical high school continues to be one of the highest-performing high schools in the state and nation as ranked by the Florida Department of Education, U.S. News & World Report and a variety of other education metrics. We offer over 37 high-wage, high-skill and high-demand occupational programs, as well as adult precollege academics classes in adult basic education, GED [General Educational Development, a high school equivalency], English for Speakers of Other Languages, and specialized transition programs for adults with disabilities. ATC operates classes all year long during the day, evenings and Saturdays.

How have school safety regulations changed for your school since the Parkland shooting?

Certainly, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas [High School] has and will continue to be the focal point in assisting all schools to improve and enhance their existing safety/security systems and protocols. We are hoping that the new funding from the state will allow us to add appropriate staff and further “harden” our campuses. The safety of our students and staff is paramount in the action that we take in the future.

Do you notice students becoming more engaged in the issues of the day?

All of ATC’s student body, both high school and adult, and ATC instructional and noninstructional staff have become more vigilant. We strongly encourage our students and staff to get involved—staying abreast of current trends, and if they “see something, say something.” We have many clubs and activities throughout the school year in which students can join and express their concerns. We are always looking for ways to improve the educational experience of all of our students, whenever and wherever possible.

What are some of your goals for the 2018-19 school year?

ATC has a formalized, three-year strategic plan that focuses on improving the career technical programs’ completion, job placement and licensure rate. Our main goal each year is to improve on the previous year’s statistics and keep ATC as the No. 1 technical college in the state.

 

Fiske (middle) receives
an honor from the city.

Scott Fiske

Coconut Creek High School

What are some things that differentiate your school that you’re particularly proud of?

The first thing that comes to mind is my staff. I have an extremely dedicated, caring and impactful staff. Listening to my graduates talk about them at our year-end banquet is truly heartwarming.

I am proud of the depth and breadth of programming options for our students. From our magnet program, Creek Technical Academy, with over 30 areas of specialization in more than eight fields of study at the collegiate level to the Advancement Via Individual Determination program [a college readiness program known as AVID], preparing students to accept the challenge that four-year universities offer. This year, we are excited to be partnering with Florida International University, the Algebra Project and the Young People’s Project to offer an innovative, project-based math curriculum, targeting students who traditionally struggle with math. The program focuses on both math literacy as well as discovering [the] students voice.

On another note, we have an awesome community-based mentoring program for our students. Over a dozen adult mentors come to school each week, meeting with between one and five students individually or in groups to talk through challenges and celebrate successes.

How have school safety regulations changed for your school since the Parkland shooting?

The events of Feb. 14 have caused all of us to step back and take stock of our policies and procedures. The superintendent [Robert Runcie] has been clear in outlining expectations for schools moving forward. This includes students and staff wearing ID badges at all times on campus, locking and securing exterior doors and gates, locking classroom doors and conducting regular emergency preparedness training with faculty, staff and students. We are also in the process of adding additional security cameras to our campus as well as loudspeakers for announcements in common areas.

We will share this information with students, parents and stakeholders through a variety of media including, but not limited to, phone calls, emails, text messages, social media, flyers and our website. Stakeholder input is always welcomed via email or at our monthly SAC [school advisory council] meeting, which will be held on the first Tuesday of each month.

What are some of your goals for the 2018-19 school year?

Ensure that all students, faculty and staff know that they are coming to a safe learning environment every day. Maintain a focus on teaching and learning amid the implementation of increased security measures. Be better than we were last year.

 

Tracy Lockhart-Talley

Dave Thomas Education Center

What are some things that differentiate your school that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m particularly proud of the personalization my staff and I give to each individual student who enters our school. Students are not randomly placed in courses when they arrive at Dave Thomas; we arrange schedules for students to receive only what they need. We strongly believe we can help every student, and we dont stop until we have tried.

What are some challenges you face that people wouldn’t normally know about?

The challenge that we face is attendance with some students. We have gone to extreme measures to increase attendance with our students. Although we have seen success with many, it continues to remain our biggest challenge. [Also], changing the perception that the community has for the school. We are often mistaken as a behavior center [the high school is designed to meet the needs of at-risk students, ages 14 to 21], and we are working endlessly to change our image.

How have school safety regulations changed for your school since the Parkland shooting?

As a school, we will be adding two campus monitors to our staff. Security will utilize the security wand more as students come on campus [and] complete the single point of entry. [We’ve] placed security at the entrance, implemented photo IDs to be worn by all, received training on the new security system, enforced the backpack policy closer, and aligned our safety plan with the surrounding municipalities.

Do you notice students becoming more engaged in the issues of the day?

Our students are sensitive to the tragedy, and the students have taken on the “if you see something, say something” mantra. No additional groups have formed. However, our present groups have addressed the topics to get student input and feedback.

What are some of your goals for the 2018-19 school year?

To increase the number of students reaching graduation status with standard diplomas. Using positive marketing strategies to change the image/perception of the school. Increasing regular attendance among students. Providing additional career-based opportunities.