For top principals, look to Miami-Dade schools

01/07/2014 6:19 PM

01/07/2014 10:50 PM

The Miami-Dade school district is home to five of the six best principals in Florida, according to a new analysis.

The analysis, released Tuesday by Florida State University and the nonprofit Florida TaxWatch, considered data from more than 3,000 high-poverty schools. Principals were evaluated based only on student achievement gains in math and reading.

The six top principals included Tangela Goa, principal of Van E. Blanton Elementary School, and Anna Hernandez, principal of M.A. Milam K-8 Center.

Linda Amica-Roberts, formerly of Coconut Palm K-8 Academy, and Verena Cabrera, formerly of Hialeah High School also made the cut. Both have since been promoted to positions in the district’s administrative offices.

Rounding out Miami-Dade’s share of top school leaders: Guillermo Muñoz, formerly of Westland Hialeah Senior High. Muñoz is now the principal at Homestead Senior High.

The lone principal from outside Miami-Dade was Pasco County’s Yvonne Reins.

The inaugural Elite Principals Awards are part of a larger initiative to improve student achievement at high-risk schools, TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

The six honorees will participate in a four-year study to identify the traits, habits and practices of top-performing school leaders. Calabro hopes the study will inform future education policy and principal preparation programs.

“What we're really trying to learn is how they beat the odds,” he said. “By replicating these behaviors, we believe we will improve student achievement across the state.”

The TaxWatch award isn’t the only recognition for Florida principals, but it is one of the few award programs based completely on student achievement data.

“Nobody applied or was nominated for this award,” Calabro said. “It was: Don't ask us. We'll call you.”

To determine the best principals, TaxWatch and Florida State used a formula that calculates whether student progress surpassed what was expected given prior achievement.

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said TaxWatch’s review validated the district’s hard work and success in its schools, many of which have high poverty rates.

“When accountability is treated in an honest way, a different set of schools rises to the top,” he said.

Carvalho gathered the five principals Tuesday in the media center at Westland Senior High.

Cabrera, the former principal at Hialeah High, said she was glad to see studies “that look beyond the obvious and look at factors that really impact, and things that are really happening in our schools.”

Cabrera and each of the other five principals said the award was an affirmation not just of their personal work, but of the work done by the whole school, including the faculty, administrations and students.

“I was in a school that had a very high percentage of poverty,” Amica-Roberts said. “We had to put a lot of things aside and understand that poverty has nothing to do with their ability to learn.”

All six principals will be honored at a ceremony in Tallahassee on Jan. 23. Each will receive at least $5,000, Calabro said.

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