Southwood Middle School gets third Five-Star award

Southwood Middle School officially received the Five-Star School award for the third year in a row during a special presentation on Oct. 18. Only 22 schools of the 392 in Miami-Dade County won that award this year.

In an auditorium packed with students, teachers and visiting VIPs, Southwood’s principal, Deborah Leal, was surprised by the presentation that had been carefully kept a secret from her.

Dr. Lawrence Feldman, Miami-Dade School Board vice chair, presented Leal with a proclamation. He was assisted by Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk; Councilman Howard Tendrich; PTSA president Buffy Heldt, and Robert Kalinsky, director of personnel, Miami- Dade Public Schools South Regional Center.

“One of the best parts of being vice chair of the school board is that I have the best schools,” Dr. Feldman said. “However, this school is a special school, because very few schools in the entire district understand the value of community.

“This school understands that you cannot be successful academically, or in sports, or in performing arts, unless you have the caring and loving of our kids, unless you have parents who are supportive and unless you have teachers who care enough and are passionate to come do this work. Your school has been recognized by the State of Florida for three years in a row for having that passion, having that excellence.”

He praised the students, teachers and school administrators, as well as the community, business partners and Palmetto Bay’s mayor and council. Feldman also presented Leal with a special Excellence Award blue ribbon and praised the principal for her loyalty and dedication.

The principal had been aware of the school’s Five-Star status but had been kept in the dark about the special ceremony and was kept busy at the back of the school while everyone arrived in the front.

“This is overwhelming,” Leal said. “The way they got me into the auditorium is they told me the inspector is here and they found a really big problem in the auditorium with the wires. The inspector was already here yesterday and said he was going to write the report and that everything was pretty good. So this was a very pleasant surprise.

“I’m very appreciative to be receiving it as an honor for Southwood, but we wouldn’t be able to do this without all of the students, the parents, all of our community members and businesses. Thank you so much for being a part of that and for your help.”

Beatriz Llano, magnet lead teacher for Southwood, helped organize the event and Mayor Stanczyk thanked everyone for everything they do and for their team effort.

“My children went to Southwood, so I have a firsthand experience with how great this school is, how great your students are, how great your teachers are, and most important, how great your administration and principal is,” Stanczyk said. “It’s the best school, I think, in Miami-Dade County, and you’ve once again shown that.”