It has now been two months since Anna Rodriguez stepped into her “personal whirlwind windstorm.”
Rodriguez was named the new principal at Miami Springs Senior High School in early November and with it came a significant milestone. During the first 45 years of the school’s existence never had a female occupied the principal’s desk at the high school.
“It’s nice, but it’s not something I’m really dwelling on too much,” said Rodriguez. “There are way too many other things, important things, that need to get done and I’ve really had to hit the ground running.”
Running would be putting it mildly. A full-out sprint might be a better analogy.
Here is a woman who, during her first week on the job, actually counted discarded pieces of gum on the two sidewalks leading up to the school.
“I counted 927 and immediately ordered a pressure cleaner to get the sidewalks and other things cleaned up,” said Rodriguez.
We actually thought she was making the 927 number up.
“No,” said Rodriguez. “I counted every single one. That’s the way I am. Every single detail.”
Talk about leaving no stone unturned! Or for that matter — gum.
Not that anyone broadcast it openly before but whispers around the school among many faculty members was that there were many issues with the previous administration under former principal Tom Ennis (who left for Killian Senior High School in late October) and that morale was low in a school that had slipped back from a B to a C rating.
But Rodriguez’s arrival, aside from getting the gum cleaned up, has invigorated the school. Administrators and certain faculty now talk of a “new attitude” and “things getting straightened out.”
“Make no mistake about it, I was not assigned this school, I put in for it because I looked at it as a new challenge for me,” said Rodriguez. “I have a lot of big plans and a lot of major goals in store for this school, so it’s time to jump on board.”
This coming from a principal who is beginning her first stint in “the big leagues” — that is, becoming a principal for the first time on the senior high school level.
But success is something Rodriguez is familiar with. After starting off as an assistant principal at JFK Middle school for five years and Krop Senior High School for one, she took over as principal at Ponce De Leon Middle School in Coral Gables in September 2006 and, through lots of motivation and organization, raised the school 49 points in the FCAT scale over those five years. With that, Ponce De Leon became the fifth-ranked middle school in the county.
Now Rodriguez, a 1990 graduate of Hialeah High School who went on to attend the University of Miami before getting a Master’s in Education at FIU, hopes to work the same magic and beyond at MSSH.
“It’s still a little bit of a process,” Rodriguez said when asked to describe her first two months. “The school is so large that I actually got lost a few times and was kind of like a deer in headlights.”
But now the headlights have dimmed and Rodriguez not only doesn’t get lost anymore but is in the process of imposing her will and desirable goals on the current faculty and administrators.
“I have already figured out the numbers,” said Rodriguez. “All we need to do is get about 800 of our 1,900 students to bring their FCAT score up by slightly less than a quarter of a percent and that will be enough to take us from a C to a B school.”
But with FCATs slightly more than two months away, that’s the short-term goal. Talk to Rodriguez about long-term goals and you practically have to cut her off.
“Plenty to do,” said Rodriguez. “There will be an immediate focus on getting a STEM program instituted in this school and also eventually my goal is for this school to go completely wireless. We need to bring this school into the 21st Century and the idea is to be less reliant on the use of books and utilize computers and the Internet more.”
The STEM program stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and is referred to as the Cambridge Program.
Rodriguez has a big head start when it comes to the math side of things since Sam Koski and the national award-winning Mu Alpha Theta program at Springs have so many trophies and awards they need to build a new wing for the school to hold everything.
“Mr. Koski and his staff have done a tremendous job with the math club and that’s the model we want to set for the many other areas as well,” said Rodriguez, who acknowledged that while money in the school system is tough these days with all of the budget cutbacks vowed to “knock on every door there is downtown to try and get the necessary funding” for her school.
While academic standing and advancement is clearly her priority, another area that has slipped drastically in the last few years is athletics at Springs High School. Not long ago it was learned that “there wasn’t a dime left” in the athletic budget and it didn’t help that the football team turned in its worst season in the history of the school, going winless and prompting the dismissal of the head coach.
“I certainly realize and appreciate the impact athletics can have on a school and it will not be ignored,” said Rodriguez. “Our athletes will need to understand that it is a privilege to be a Golden Hawk and will be asked to be held at a higher standard as a result.”
Her first major hire might come by the end of this week as the final list of potential candidates to become the new head football coach has been pared down to a few and a decision is expected.
“My ultimate goal is to restore the pride in this school and bring back the many kids that have left via magnet and charter schools,” said Rodriguez, referring to MSSH’s dwindling enrollment numbers in recent years. “I want to take back what’s mine. I look at myself as a chef cooking a gourmet meal and it’s time to turn the heat up and follow a recipe for success that the state has laid out for us. Every leader has their own kind of vision and I happen to be a very competitive person. Once we get this school to a B, there will be no stopping or slowing down until we make it to an A.”
As she wrapped up her conversation with the Gazette, Rodriguez quipped, “So, what do you think?”
I paused for a second and quickly blurted out, “The last time I walked out of this office and felt like this was 10 years ago when another Rodriguez (Douglas) had just taken over a ‘sinking ship’ school and dropped such an impressive ‘game plan’ on me and then went on to do great things.”
Anna Rodriguez reacted quickly.
“You’re not the first one that has said that. They are calling me the ‘female Doug Rodriguez.’ ”
Considering what the previous Rodriguez accomplished, Springs High School could be on the rise again.