Watchdog group honors three South Florida principals

For the second year in a row, South Florida was well represented on the Florida TaxWatch list of top school administrators.

The latest list of six principals, released Wednesday, included two from Miami-Dade County: Kelli Hunter-Sheppard, of Leisure City K-8 Center, and Benny Valdes, of Miami Senior High School.

Cassandra Robinson, of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, also made the cut.

TaxWatch, a fiscal watchdog group, partnered with the Florida State University Learning Systems Institute to choose the principals. The selections were based on student achievement gains in reading and mathematics.

No nominations were accepted.

To be considered, the principals had to have spent at least three years in a school serving mostly at-risk children.

“These six principals are breaking down barriers to achievement for high-risk students by creating the best learning environment for their success,” TaxWatch Chief Research Officer Robert Weissert said.

The principals will be honored in Orlando on Oct. 16.

Each will receive a $5,000 stipend sponsored by the Florida Lottery, Kyra Infotech, J.M. Rubin Foundation, State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Brighthouse Networks.

Last year, five of the six award recipients were from Miami-Dade.

Those principals — and the principals honored Wednesday — will participate in a study to identify the traits, habits and practices of top-performing school leaders.

“Our aim is to understand which leadership and staffing practices are associated with these phenomenal outcomes,” said Kristina Lavenia, of the Learning Systems Institute.