Category Archives: Wellington Education

Our School Grants Accomplish Crucial Goal

Our School Grants Accomplish Crucial Goal $11,000 In Grants Were Distributed To All 11 Wellington Schools’ Arts Departments In 2022

This year’s Wellington Schools feature series in Wellington The Magazine was presented in conjunction with the Wellington Community Foundation’s “Our Schools” grant program.

The WCF Board of Directors — including Chair Tom Wenham, Vice Chair Maria Becker, Treasurer Hope Barron, Secretary Jim Sackett, and directors Joanna Boynton, Dr. Gordon Johnson, Barry Manning, James Seder, Pam Tahan and Maggie Zeller — voted unanimously at the start of the year to present this grant to all 11 public schools in Wellington, specifically to be used throughout the “arts departments” in 2022. Wellington The Magazine followed the progress along the way, featuring one of the schools each month throughout 2022, speaking with the principal at each school and learning more about that school.

Wellington Regional Medical Center hosted a special breakfast event for the principals and other Wellington school representatives in January to launch this innovative program. The principals were invited by the Wellington Community Foundation as the recipients of the “Our Schools” grant, through which the foundation supported the fine arts departments at each school.

Although the arts are usually among the first departments in schools to have budgets slashed, Wellington schools still have a robust arts program to offer, and the WCF board wanted to ensure that this grant can help keep that in place.

Johnson added that music, drawing and other artistic activities engage students and give them avenues to use their creativity in ways the academic classrooms do not. Manning agreed. “All of our students need outlets, especially during these challenging times,” he said.

Tahan, who also serves as CEO of Wellington Regional Medical Center, offered to host the special breakfast in the Community Conference Room on the hospital’s campus, and the new annual principal’s breakfast was born.

Tahan and her staff did a wonderful job organizing and preparing the room, the menu, and takeaway gifts for all the principals. The buffet-style breakfast included a made-to-order omelet station with all the fixings, French toast casserole, bacon, sausage, kielbasa, home fries with peppers and onions, fresh fruit, assorted Danishes, and coffee, water and freshly squeeze orange juice.

The principals and other school representatives, along with the foundation board members, including two newly elected board members, Michael Gauger and Donald Gross, were welcomed with opening remarks by WRMC Chief Operating Officer John Mark Atchley, who thanked everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedules and joining in on this breakfast prepared just for them.

Wenham, chair of the foundation, also thanked everyone for coming and thanked the WRMC team for putting on a great event. He went on to thank each of the schools for all that they are doing for the community’s children.

“We know it has been hard,” he said, adding that events like the breakfast serve to further enhance and better the community’s understanding of Wellington’s schools. “Coming together like this is something we should consider doing more often.”

Becker, who recently stepped down as vice chair of the foundation, noted the happy reason for the day’s event.

“Today, we were able to bring together representatives from all of our local schools and award them money that they can now use to help fund a part of the budget that is often overlooked, the arts,” she said. “The arts provide a needed outlet for students at a time when they need it most. I’m excited to see how each school uses the funds to enrich the lives of their students. This morning has been a classic example of what makes our village an amazing community for families with children.”

The foundation’s “Our Schools” grants have been awarded for the past five years with a different concentration of spending, varying from elementary after school programs to middle school requests for laptops to additional tutoring staff to assisting students needing help affording the annual safety patrol trip.

The grants have targeted either elementary schools, middle schools or high schools independently each year. But this year, the board felt it was necessary to fund every Wellington school — and found the budget to do so.

The foundation recently passed a 2023 budget that once again includes funding for all 11 schools. The foundation will work with school principals to identify another area from each school that can utilize the grant dollars to benefit Wellington students.

These projects are only made possible through the hundreds of generous donors, annual sponsors and volunteers that continue to support Wellington’s neighbors through the leadership of the Wellington Community Foundation and its board of directors. It is just one way that the community continues to show up and help its most vulnerable members — children, seniors and veterans.

For additional information about this “Our Schools” grant project, and other foundation projects, visit


A Fine Arts Academy And Much More

A Fine Arts Academy And Much More Wellington’s Oldest School Continues To Thrive Under Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan

By Deborah Welky

Wellington Elementary School was the first public school built in the young community of Wellington back in 1981, opening its doors with 13 educators teaching grades three to six under the direction of the legendary Principal Buz Spooner and Assistant Principal Marge Mosser.

Spooner went on to lead Wellington Elementary for 20 years before he retired, setting up a school culture that continues to thrive today. Since 2014, the school has been led by Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan.

Vaughan grew up in London, England, and received her bachelor’s degree from Kingston University there. In 1996, she moved to the United States to live closer to her parents, continuing her education at Nova Southeastern University, where she received both her master’s and doctoral degrees.

“I moved to Florida because of the beautiful weather and family connections here,” Vaughan said, adding that she moved to the western communities in 2019.

In London, Vaughan attended what is called “primary” school there, here known as elementary.

“I loved my primary school!” she recalled. “However, after I left and went on to secondary school, I realized that there were many gaps in my education and, because of this, I struggled — specifically in the area of math.”

As often happens, it only took one dedicated and inspirational educator to turn things around.

“A teacher named Ms. Okikiolu took me under her wing and tutored me one-on-one after school,” Vaughan said. “She was the most patient and kind teacher I had ever had. If it was not for her, I would have been unable to pass the exams needed to go to college to become a teacher.”

And a teacher is what Vaughan wanted to be, even as a child.

“Once I became a teacher, I started to think about how I could have a greater impact on student learning, and how I could help other teachers to develop their potential,” Vaughan said. “So, I became a team leader, and that was the beginning of my road to becoming a principal.”

That is what first brought her to the western communities.

“After being an elementary and middle school teacher for 20 years, I was fortunate to be promoted to assistant principal at H.L. Johnson Elementary School in Royal Palm Beach,” Vaughan said. “I was then promoted as an instructional support team leader (ISTL) for the south and west area offices. I served in that position for three years and was then promoted to be the principal at Wellington Elementary School.”

She didn’t know it yet, but when she started down that road as a team leader, she was about to meet a key mentor.

“Dr. Matthew Shoemaker has had the biggest influence on my career,” Vaughan said. “He was the west area superintendent, and I worked under him. As a leader, he would take the time to mentor me and share his reasoning behind decisions. He demonstrated what it means to be a servant leader and led with the ethos that we should always make decisions that are in the best interest of students. I have adopted that philosophy as a leader, and that is what guides my decision making.”

And for an elementary school principal, what could be in the best interest of students more than choosing top-notch teachers? However, it’s not always easy.

“The biggest challenge I face as a principal is the severe teacher shortage that we are now facing nationwide,” Vaughan said. “I have tried to combat this by, firstly, making sure that we retain the teachers we have and, secondly, by being proactive in finding and hiring new teachers.”

Attracting and retaining students is another challenge that one does not usually consider when talking about elementary education in public schools. Yet Vaughan ranks this as one of the highlights of her tenure.

“One area that we here at Wellington Elementary have been successful in is attracting students back to a public school who had otherwise chosen charter or private schools,” she said. “The opening of our fine arts academy has helped with this, as it offers a variety of programs that encourage and foster artistic creativity and spark students’ interest.”

The fine arts academy began in 2016 and includes, musical theater (productions and chorus), handbells, strings (orchestra ensemble), art (club, competitions and showcases), physical education (running club and team sports), and communications (TV production, journalism club and yearbook).

While the fine arts academy first began with baby steps, it has now evolved into a respected, recognized program.

“In the future, I would like to see our fine arts program expand so that more students can participate in some of the programs offered, and also to add components like dance, keyboarding and band,” Vaughan said.

Wellington Elementary’s gifted center also regularly receives accolades, Vaughan noted.

Set on more than 20 acres, this green school also has a lavish nature trail. The school is also involved in health and wellness, participating in various causes and walks, such as National Walk to School Day, Autism Speaks, the American Cancer Society, Heroes for Education and more.

Meanwhile, Vaughan feels driven to pass on her knowledge to those just starting along educational roads of their own. “Personally, I would like to continue helping teachers, especially new teachers, to grow professionally,” she said. “I want to work to attract more people to the education profession.”


A Nurturing And Challenging School Culture

A Nurturing  And Challenging School Culture Equestrian Trails Elementary School Principal Michele Chorniewy Aims To Create Resilient Young Learners

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Equestrian Trails Elementary School opened in 2003 to serve Wellington’s eastern neighborhoods. Located adjacent to the Olympia community, the school will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.

For the past 12 years, the principal at Equestrian Trails has been Michele Chorniewy, who grew up in a small, rural, “horse country” town just outside Ocala.

“I enjoyed elementary school tremendously,” Chorniewy recalled. “I can even look back on specific years and specific teachers who made that time special for me.”

Her first mentor, however, was her mother, Marlene.

“My mother should’ve been a teacher,” Chorniewy said. “I grew up in a single parent home with one sister. My mother had this mindset of high expectations, especially for us girls, that nothing could hold us back. She didn’t accept anything but the best we could possibly do. She was a huge influence in my wanting to be a teacher and make a difference, and she helped me find that inner drive within myself.”

Chorniewy received her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Florida and her master’s degree at San José State University in California. She also took part in a program and taught leadership to other teachers, her first steps toward administration.

“I taught for two years in Connecticut and for 10 in California, but I always knew I would be coming back to Florida,” she said. “I relocated when an opportunity presented itself right after 9/11. I spent one year teaching and observing at Cholee Lake Elementary School in Greenacres, then mentioned my degree to the principal. Soon after that, I became a team leader and then ESOL coordinator at the school.”

Her time at Cholee Lake helped Chorniewy make the transition to assistant principal, first at Limestone Creek Elementary School in Jupiter and then Marsh Point Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens.

“I stayed with that principal, Maureen Werner, for three years and joined her when she went to open a brand-new school,” Chorniewy said. “We chose the design, the colors and hired every single person. At that time, you had to be an assistant principal for five years before you could apply to be a principal.”

Chorniewy credits Werner, who recently retired, with being a key mentor.

“With her as my mentor, I learned how to create a caring ‘school family,’ a supportive environment — especially for staff — where everyone feels appreciated and wants to come to work and views it as a happy place,” she said.

While working at Marsh Point, Chorniewy moved to Wellington, and her own daughters attended Polo Park Middle School and Wellington High School. By the time Equestrian Trails had an opening for a principal, Chorniewy was more than ready.

“I’ve been here at Equestrian Trails for 12 years now,” Chorniewy said. “When I got here, the school had dropped to a B-rated school. I needed to build a strong foundation through students and staff with relationships and a ‘we can do it’ attitude. Now, we’re an A-rated school with state-of-the-art programs and hands-on, project-based learning. We have lots of opportunities for kids to showcase their talents through arts, technology and more.”

The school is highly competitive in the Academic Games and does well in the STEM-based SECME competition.

“We’re a STEM choice school, something I created,” Chorniewy said. “We used to have a few clubs, but now we have robotics, a positivity club focusing on the importance of kindness, and a drama club, which I run myself. I consistently work to bring forth new programs, to make sure kids can compete globally for the jobs of the future, and to promote that to girls especially.

This past year, Equestrian Trails was second in the school district and 18th in Florida on state testing. “That was very big, coming off the pandemic,” she said.

When the pandemic struck, Chorniewy had unique experience for dealing with it.

“A big influencer on my career was Dr. [Martin] Krovetz, my lead professor at San José State,” she said. “He has written books on fostering resiliency in children and was well known around the U.S. I did my graduate work underneath him and learned the importance of creating a nurturing and academically challenging culture at school. In short, making sure students get what they need mentally, preparing them to overcome challenges and being there for them so they can sustain that while, at the same time, maintaining a top-notch academic culture for all kids equitably.”

Chorniewy has found getting back to normal harder than dealing with the early phases of the pandemic.

“The aftermath has turned out to be the hardest,” she said. “Teachers are having a hard time getting kids to learn. We’re seeing how academics suffer when students are home for long periods of time, with no parent in the room with them. And there’s a loss of social skills, especially in those kindergarteners who are now in second grade. We’re seeing kids who don’t know how to talk to one another, nor problem solve.”

Her focus recently has been getting those students the extra resources and assistance they need.

“True, some kids enjoy being on the computer and have the inner drive to listen to a teacher remotely but, especially on an elementary level, they’re not there yet,” Chorniewy said. “The majority of children need to be in school. Sadly, a lot of our kids who really needed to be in school were the last ones to come back. When they had the choice, they stayed home.”

In the future, Chorniewy hopes to get deeper into project-based learning and to have students work on global problem-solving, over weeks and months if necessary. She wants to bring in technology that students will need when they go to middle and high school.

“I want my students to problem-solve and work together,” she said. “We need to come back to that.”

While retirement may be in her future, she has no immediate plans to leave Equestrian Trails.

“I plan on retiring right here at Equestrian Trails,” Chorniewy said. “I recently remarried, so I’m looking forward to traveling. My daughters are older and getting married. I’m looking forward to grandchildren. There are always new things. In the meantime, I want to keep the school growing. I want to find new ways to inspire kids. I want to leave the school much better than when I got here. I’m already looking at staff for leadership ability. Great leaders create an environment where things continue to run well whether they are there or not. Everyone should continue learning.”


High Expectations For Students And Staff

High Expectations For Students And Staff Binks Forest Elementary’s Principal Michella Levy Lives By The School’s Motto ‘Expect The Best’

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

Binks Forest Elementary School opened in February 2000 as the third elementary school in Wellington, serving the community’s growing western areas. For the past 13 years, the school has been led by Principal Michella Levy.

Levy is living proof that success can be achieved no matter what life throws at you. Raised in a small central Florida town, she recalled struggled all through her school years, in a community where education did not seem to be a priority.

“I didn’t get the education that I needed, and I had no family support,” Levy said. “I went from kindergarten through 12th grade with the same group of kids. I was on a work/study program where I learned only basic reading, basic math, and went to work for the rest of the of day. There were 103 in my graduating class. I have a great work ethic, but school was not a great experience. And that’s why I’m a teacher and a principal now — to make a difference.”

Once Levy started reading in earnest, she read everything she could. Although it took her eight years to earn her bachelor’s degree, she completed a typically three-year master’s degree program in just one year — all while teaching full time.

By age 27, she was teaching elementary school at an inner-city school in Orlando. She went on to teach fourth and fifth grade in Palm Springs here in Palm Beach County, while also working as a reading coach, showing teachers how to successfully teach reading. She knew firsthand just how important that was.

This was followed by six years at Hidden Oaks Elementary School in suburban Lake Worth.

“I wanted to become a school counselor, but the principal at Hidden Oaks said, ‘No, I want you as my assistant principal,’” remembered Levy, who earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University and took the job.

Thirteen years ago, Levy was promoted to principal at Binks Forest here in Wellington.

“I’m very grateful and very humbled to be here. I truly do get to make a difference for 1,200 kids every day,” she said. “Every decision I make, I ask myself, ‘Am I doing the best for the child?’ If there’s a problem, I call the kid in, read their soul and see what they need. I’ll move a kid out of a particular class in a minute if that’s what they need.”

Levy gives special thanks to former Area Superintendent Dr. Matthew Shoemaker for his support during her early years as a principal.

“His guidance was amazing — with love and patience. The people who you love, you do things for out of love. The people you fear, you only do it out of fear. So, I lead with love,” Levy said. “I greet them at the door, hug them, want to know what kind of morning they had. I tell them, ‘We’re a family. We don’t bicker. We don’t gossip. We’re family. We love each other.’”

When Levy took over as principal, Binks Forest was already an A-rated school, in part because it was a gifted center, home to high-performing students from across Wellington. Today, most elementary schools keep their high-performing students, so Binks Forest is no longer classified as a gifted center, but it’s still an A-rated school.

“We’re a perfectly rounded school,” Levy said. “One-third of our students are functioning below grade level, one third are at grade level and one third are above grade level. We have more of our students than ever on the free and reduced-price lunch program, and people don’t realize that. It’s not the same ‘clientele,’ but we’re still scoring high on the state tests.”

For the past two years, being a principal meant dealing with many more social and emotional challenges — for staff, as well as students.

“You had to be there for everybody,” Levy said. “Even though we were delivering laptops and desks, kids were raising themselves in front of screens, my own included. I was too busy to ‘enjoy’ the pandemic.”

Yet Levy doesn’t consider the pandemic to be her biggest challenge as a principal. Instead, it’s something much simpler.

“Our motto at Binks is to ‘expect the best.’ I expect the best, and I’m a pro-active person. So, I find it hard to run a school when I don’t have complete control over everything. For example, maintenance and furniture. I know what I need, and it’s difficult, with maintenance budget cuts, to get the resources. Getting a toilet fixed can take a while, but, if a bathroom isn’t fixed, a child loses seven minutes of class time going to another bathroom further away. Maintenance is important.”

Levy has tried to offset the problem by doing some fundraising on her own, but she always works to put her focus on the students.

“We pride ourselves on extremely high expectations for kids, but we also want to make learning fun,” she said. “We’ve planned 11 field trips for our fourth graders because I believe they will remember experiences over workbooks. We turn science, social studies and English into a farming experience. We plant things; we shuck corn. We dress up for a ‘Coming to America’ history lesson. They may not remember a book, but they will remember ‘Coming to America’ in second grade.”

What Levy looks for when hiring teachers goes beyond academics. “My staff and my teachers have to have heart,” she said. “I can teach teachers how to teach, but I can’t teach ‘heart,’ so that’s what I look for.”

At the start of the school year, Levy also takes the time to make sure that each student is placed with the correct teacher.

“I have their background on cards, and I look at every single kid individually,” Levy said. “It takes me about 60 hours to place every kid with the perfect teacher, but my goal is to educate the whole child — to make sure each child has a great year. Even then, I never let academics go — if a child needs individualized instruction in one area, that’s what they will get.”

Levy once had set her sights set on becoming a high school principal or even a superintendent but, upon reflection, decided to stay put.

“I’ll make more of a difference here,” she said. “I love what I’ve built at Binks Forest — the culture and environment. Because I’m so grateful to all the people who mentored me, I participate in a ‘My Mentor and Me’ program, as do many of the teachers here. It’s a good program for any student who needs a little extra love and attention. I mentor six children because I know what it’s like. Nothing has been handed to me.”


Putting The Needs Of Students First

Putting The Needs Of Students First
Polo Park Middle School Principal Michael Aronson Aims To Provide A Top-Notch Educational Environment

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

When Polo Park Middle School opened along southern Wellington’s fast-growing Lake Worth Road corridor in August 2000, it became the community’s second middle school.

Now 22 years later, Polo Park is led by Principal Michael Aronson, who has been serving in that position for four years, since taking over in August 2018.

Aronson grew up attending Broward County public schools, where he got an extra dose of attention in his early teen years.

“My mother taught at my middle school, so any time I remotely got into anything I wasn’t supposed to, she knew about it immediately and it was corrected quickly,” Aronson recalled. “So, my path was pretty straight and narrow.”

Yet in high school, a guidance counselor told him to give up the college prep classes he had been taking and get onto a vocational track. Fortunately, his college advisor disagreed.

“She was a big influence in my life,” Aronson said. “Her name was Patti Skelton, and she told me to do what I thought was best for me. She saw a different person in me than my guidance counselor saw. She thought I was destined for good things and that college should be in my future.”

Aronson took her advice, attaining both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia Southern University before becoming a physical education and health sciences teacher at a high school in Georgia.

“I considered becoming a college soccer coach but, once I got into education, within a couple of years, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Aronson said. “Seeing the difference I could make in kids’ lives, education was where I wanted to remain.”

Aronson later returned to Florida to teach physical education at Palm Beach Lakes and Wellington high schools. It was at Wellington High School that Aronson decided to pivot into administration, cheered on by then-Principal Cheryl Alligood, who went on to serve as chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County.

“She would push me to get everything I needed to get done to become an administrator,” Aronson recalled. “She saw a lot of great leadership qualities in me. I had my degree when I moved to Florida, but there was a lot of red tape I needed to push through in order to get things done.”

That will to push through stood Aronson in good stead during the pandemic. “The biggest challenge for me as a principal has been getting through the last three years and getting the kids caught up to where they need to be,” he said. “They needed to get reacclimated to being back in the building. They needed to remember how to behave in a classroom. And they needed to get the information that they didn’t necessarily get while they were home, especially in math. We have an engineering program here at Polo Park Middle School, so STEM is big for our school. We needed to get them ready for that high level math by remediating their math skills.”

Yet Aronson can take pride in the fact that his teachers continue to steer kids in the right direction despite the setbacks of the pandemic.

“We want to continue providing our students the quality education they’ve been accustomed to getting,” he said. “The teachers are just happy to not have to do hybrid teaching, to have the kids back in front of them again where they can give them the attention they need to make sure they’re successful.”

At Polo Park, the successes are many. More than 600 students make the honor roll every six weeks. The baseball team recently won the county championship. The girls volleyball team won all their divisions. And the robotics team won the state championship, then placed 36th in the world championships.

“Kids are always kids,” Aronson said. “They need structure and leadership, but in the last couple of years, social skills are something we’ve had to reteach. They’ve been home for two years with no friends around or even family. Some kids have changed their personalities permanently because of that. Sometimes the change is good, sometimes it’s bad — it depends on the kid.”

Aronson’s goals for the future are to continue to grow as a principal and leader.

“I can’t rest on my laurels,” he said. “I must continue to grow every year to make sure the school staff and kids get the best part of me. I want Polo Park to continue to be an A-rated school with top-notch academic, athletic and robotics programs. I also want to see the continued success of all the other activities that are overlooked. We have a lot of great things that go on here.”



A Good Education Is The Key To Success

A Good Education Is The Key To Success Principal Dr. Eugina Smith Feaman Of Emerald Cove Middle School Comes From A Family Of Educators

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Emerald Cove Middle School opened in 2007 as Wellington’s third middle school. Located at the intersection of State Road 7 and Stribling Way, it serves Wellington’s eastern neighborhoods, such as the large Olympia community it borders.

Since 2014, Dr. Eugina Smith Feaman has served as principal at Emerald Cove, arriving there after three years in the top position at Wellington Elementary School.

Feaman is a self-described “product of Palm Beach County schools.” When she graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Suncoast High School, she already knew she was aiming for a career in education.

“Both my parents were educators in middle school, and I always had very influential teachers,” Feaman recalled.

One in particular, her John F. Kennedy Middle School math teacher Helen Brown, was particularly inspiring.

“She was firm but fair as a teacher,” Feaman said. “In fact, her teaching style is one I started adopting when I became a teacher. She was clear and caring. Her students always knew that she cared about their success.”

Yet it was Feaman’s parents, Virginia and Ulysses Smith, who first encouraged Feaman to follow their footsteps into the field of education. It was the same for her sisters, who are also educators.

“They wanted us to help others,” Feaman said. “They wanted for us to be people who gave back to our community and to be role models, as they were. They were staunch believers in the importance of education and doing well in school, and they instilled that in us. They always talked about education being that key to success. They were our biggest supporters.”

Feaman attended Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, majoring in elementary education and English. Upon graduation, she returned to Palm Beach County and began working as a teacher at Bear Lakes Middle School, where they were looking for someone for their new intensive reading program. But Feaman continued her studies, later earning specialist and doctoral degrees in educational leadership from Argosy University in Sarasota.

As Feaman continued in her career, she was soon named an assistant principal at Bear Lakes, then promoted to principal at Cholee Lake Elementary School in Greenacres.

In 2011, Feaman became the principal at Wellington Elementary School, and in June 2014, when former Principal Dr. Nancy Lucas retired, Feaman took over as principal at Emerald Cove. “I had grown to love Wellington very much, and I have been here ever since,” she said.

Like many educators, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented her biggest challenge to date. “We had to go into a virtual setting, which was brand new, make sure students had what they needed in that time frame, and keep them safe,” Feaman said. “Now that we are back into the building, we have to make up for the gaps — academically, socially and emotionally.”

Emotional gaps are a real concern when it comes to middle schoolers, as they are typically highly social.

“Remote learning really has affected them socially and emotionally,” Feaman said. “Students had more screen time, which is both a positive and a negative thing, and not being able to interact with their peers affected their social skills. Also, in many cases, many were at home by themselves and able to do things without having structure. Kids are kids. They look for guidance from adults; they look for structure from adults. They do have other influences — phones and computers, as well as influences from within the community — and they are exposed to more things than in years past, but they are still children who are looking for love, nurturing and guidance from the adults in their lives.”

Since Feaman took the reins at Emerald Cove, the school has added its Pre-Information Technology academy, a technology-based choice program at the school, as well as becoming an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) school.

“Those are two high points, added to support our students academically,” Feaman said. “We also have very successful visual and performing arts classes. For the first time in the school’s history, our band has received a Superior rating, which was determined by a panel of judges comprised of other band directors.”

Moving forward, Feaman plans to continue her work helping her middle school students thrive.

“I hope to help as many children be academically successful as possible,” Feaman said. “I would like to grow some of our culturally aware programs to make sure we have a welcoming and inclusive environment, and I’d like to guide and support my teachers and staff members so they can do the best for their students.”


Personalized Learning For Students

Personalized Learning For Students
Local Private Schools Provide Students With A More Individualized Educational Experience

By Mike May

When it comes to education options in Wellington, parents have many choices beyond traditional brick-and-mortar schools. In Wellington, there are several private schools that specialize in providing an individualized educational experience for parents and students looking for this type of learning environment. Among these schools are #1 Education Place, Score at the Top and the Wellington Collegiate Academy.

#1 Education Place

The driving forces behind #1 Education Place are Judy Blake and Anita Kane. Together, they started this private school more than 20 years ago. They began as tutors with clients from the equestrian world. Now, they operate a full-fledged private school with clients from all walks of life.

At #1 Education Place, located in the original Wellington Mall, the teaching model is not what you find at regular schools. “We are a Montessori school,” Blake said. “And we are open 12 months a year.”

The “big picture” focus at #1 Education Place — which teaches children in grades 1 through 12 — is to emphasize independence and executive function.

According to Blake, when students are taught executive function, they learn organizational skills, personal responsibility, how to organize their day and how to master life as an adult. They also learn all the core subjects taught in conventional schools. At #1 Education Place, there’s a major focus on core communications. “We have a big emphasis on writing, especially in high school,” Kane said. “We also focus on cursive writing, penmanship, grammar, spelling and English comprehension.”

Rather than a teacher-directed environment, like in traditional schools, #1 Education Place implements a student-directed educational atmosphere.

According to Kane, teachers at the school encourage each student to follow his or her interests and passions. The teaching environment is peaceful and filled with purpose.

“We have all open spaces, no closed doors and there’s freedom of movement for everybody,” Blake said. “Here, students are interested in doing, learning and accomplishing. There are no rewards or punishment, but plenty of positive reinforcement. In many cases, we provide a few minutes of instruction and then let the students do the work.”

At #1 Education Place, homework is not a regular occurrence. “Our students have a life outside of school,” Kane noted.

The school also offers flexible arrivals and departures for students. According to Blake, flexible schedules are important for students who have serious interests in other endeavors, such as tennis, golf and equestrian sports that require unique travel and practice time.

For the elementary school and middle school students at #1 Education Place, they do get 30 minutes of recess every day and occasionally go on field trips.

#1 Education Place is located at 12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 23. For more info., call (561) 753-6563 or visit

Score Academy 

Score Academy, the private school component of Score at the Top, with a location on State Road 7 in Wellington, is also an option for families that require flexible scheduling because traditional schools don’t work for them. Score Academy teaches NCAA-approved core courses and is a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges & Schools) and SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) approved school.

“We are your pathway to academic success, virtually or locally,” said Maggie Alexander, the center director and head of school. “You don’t have to be in Wellington to attend Score Academy.”

At Score Academy, you can learn on site or remotely. According to Alexander, one of the appealing aspects of Score Academy is that many classes are one-on-one with a teacher, and no class has more than four students. Some classes feature a student connected via Zoom, who is joined by a student and teacher in one of Score’s classrooms. “Our classes are live, synchronous and face-to-face,” Alexander said.

Many of the students at Score Academy are serious equestrian competitors — hunters, jumpers or dressage riders. Many other students are tennis players, golfers, water skiers, figure skaters and dancers. Because of different and changing schedules, students who compete in equestrian pursuits are enrolled at Score Academy for classes throughout the day.

The academy accommodates a significant number of international students, as the school has the ability to provide I-20 visas for students who want to study and reside in the United States.

Besides catering to full-time students, Score at the Top also provides SAT and ACT prep workshops, as well as tutoring in all subject areas. You can also register to take a regular, honors or AP class at Score Academy, even if you attend a different school.

The emphasis at Score at the Top is to provide each student with a quality education. “99.9 percent of our students have been accepted to their top choice colleges and schools,” Alexander said.

For students looking for this type of program, Score Academy is worth the investment.

Score at the Top is located 1035 S. State Road 7, Suite 118. For more info., call (561) 333-8882 or visit

Wellington Collegiate Academy 

The students at the Wellington Collegiate Academy (WCA), located in the original Wellington Mall, currently range from kindergarten through eighth grade. However, the school will soon be educating students through 12th grade. Beginning this fall, the WCA will add one high school grade each year.

Right now, there are 90 students enrolled at the school.

“We offer traditional and innovative ways of learning,” said Juan Carlos Valdez, WCA co-owner and principal. “We try to cater to the specific needs of every student. We encourage students to progress at their own speed.”

According to Valdez, who operates the school with his wife, Jessica, the teacher-student ratio is low, which guarantees that each student gets plenty of attention.

“We have eight to 12 students per teacher,” Juan Carlos said. “There’s a great deal of relationship building between students and teachers. Our students know that they have the support of their teachers.”

At the WCA, there is a significant emphasis on the arts. The arts are the specialty area of interest for the Valdez husband-and-wife team. He’s a professional animator, while she is an opera singer.

Once a year, the WCA’s students conduct an acting or musical performance.

“This year, our students performed “The Wizard of Oz,” Juan Carlos said. “In recent years, our students presented Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. In December, we have our Christmas concert.”

When it comes to music education, that’s Jessica’s specialty.

“I oversee all the music classes,” she said. “We want them to experience all forms of music, which includes music from the 1960s, 1980s, jazz and Mozart.”

One of the biggest musical opportunities for WCA students will take place in June 2023 when a school choir will be traveling to England to perform during the London Band Week.

Every year, WCA’s musical troupe performs at Walt Disney World, and there’s a reason that they are invited to return annually. “When people hear us sing, they stop and listen,” Jessica said.

A key aspect of WCA’s approach to education is connecting the textbook with reality. For instance, the students learning marine biology are taken on a field trip to the Miami Seaquarium. The school also takes students on educational field trips to the Kennedy Space Center, St. Augustine, the Palm Beach Zoo, local farms and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.

“It’s one thing to learn about a place from a book, and it’s another thing to see it live and in person,” Juan Carlos said.

The school also understands the importance of recess and physical activity breaks for its students during the school day. “Giving students recess breaks helps support their imagination and helps create innovation,” Juan Carlos said.

The Wellington Collegiate Academy is located at 12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 14B. For more info., call (561) 784-1776 or (561) 701-3462, or visit



Top In Science, Math And Engineering

Top In Science, Math And Engineering
American Heritage Schools Leads The Nation In STEM Education

As the world continues to advance technologically, American Heritage Schools keeps pace with the global shift by integrating a culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into its comprehensive and rigorous curriculum.

Founded in 1965, American Heritage Schools is a nationally ranked college preparatory school with two 40-acre campuses in South Florida for grades Pre-K3 to 12. The 4,800 students represent more than 60 different countries, and more than 70 percent of the faculty holds a post-graduate degree. The student to faculty ratio is 5 to 1.

AHS alumni are notable leaders in their fields, who are generating positive differences in the world. Dylan Cahill graduated from American Heritage Schools’ Palm Beach campus in 2014, from Dartmouth College in 2018, and he is currently a medical degree candidate at Harvard Medical School. “American Heritage prepared me for college academics,” Cahill said. “Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the study strategies I developed in challenging classes at AHS helped make my transition into the demands of college life much smoother.”

Ranked among the top private schools in Florida in STEM according to Niche, a leader in digital searches for the best K-12 schools and colleges, the students at American Heritage recently earned high honors in STEM, including No. 1 in Florida at the state science fair, No. 1 and No. 2 private school in Florida in math competition, and event champions in robotics competition.

The American Heritage Science Research Institute for select students in grades 6 to 12 enables students to conduct research on real-world problems, and in turn, they have earned international recognition for their findings.

Emilin Mathew researched digital phenotyping of the autism spectrum and earned first prize in the world at the 2021 International Intel Science & Engineering Fair.

“I’m really grateful for the support I got in pursuing my commitment to overcome healthcare inequities for people of color,” Mathew said. “Winning first place in the world was the most empowering experience that reaffirmed my aspiration to be a scientist-activist who helps underserved communities.”

She is just one of the many students at American Heritage empowered to make a big difference in the world.

The range of equipment in the science lab is unlike any other high school — fluorescent and inverted microscopes, UV/Vis plate reader (a spectrophotometer), a carbon dioxide incubator, a minus-86-degree freezer, a liquid nitrogen cryogenic tank and a scanning electron microscope, just to name a few.

“When our students graduate, they are equipped with a level of research knowledge they would not normally have without the opportunities presented in our program,” said Dr. Iris Thompson, director of science research at American Heritage Schools’ Palm Beach campus. “This sets them apart from their peers when applying to college or graduate school.”

The mathematics departments at both campuses are equally strong. Starting in Lower School, advanced courses are offered, including the Stanford University math program for accelerated math students in grades 4 through 6. This early learning enables the students to perform extremely well at math competitions. They earned the ranking of No. 1 elementary school in Florida and No. 2 private elementary school in the United States in math competition, and many of those students advance to the high school level with great success.

Both the Broward and Palm Beach math teams at AHS ranked No. 1 and No. 2 private school at the Florida Association of Mu Alpha Theta statewide math competition. The Palm Beach campus earned five first-place awards in Geometry, Matrices and Vectors, Statistics, Statistics Bowl and Computer Competition.

Justin Sun is a senior at the Palm Beach campus who has competed on the AHS Math Team since he was a freshman. His strength is in statistics with an interest in data science.

“One day I want to be the CEO of my own corporation using data to solve major issues in the world, such as climate change and the tumultuous political environment,” explained Sun, who attributed his success in high school to his teachers. “American Heritage does a great job of making sure the students are comfortable in class and understand the material, and I feel that only comes with experience of the teachers, who make sure the students have the proper tools to achieve the goals they want.”

Sun will be attending Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.

In the field of robotics and engineering, the AHS Ninjineers Robotics Team at the Broward campus qualified for the World Robotics Championship in Houston over the summer. The team also won NASA’s Regional Engineering Inspiration Award, which celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school or organization and community.

Senior Krishna Sorna was a top student in the American Heritage Pre-Engineering Program at the Palm Beach campus and will be attending Princeton in the fall.

“American Heritage has played a major role in my early acceptance to Princeton University by providing a great educational environment unlike any other high school,” Sorna said. “The Pre-Engineering Program allowed me to learn through several engineering classes, participate in internships with major engineering companies, and design and create products in the engineering and robotics lab to get real-world experience, which inspired me to choose a major in electrical and computer engineering and a career at an engineering firm.”

American Heritage Schools in Palm Beach is No. 2 in National Merit Scholars out of all schools in Florida. American Heritage Schools’ combined students from both campuses comprise 9 percent of all National Merit Scholars Semifinalists throughout the 2,227 public and private schools in Florida.

“We are very proud to have our students win prestigious honors for their various accomplishments in our STEM programs,” said Dr. Doug Laurie, president of American Heritage Schools. “These students are model ambassadors for American Heritage Schools. Each of them embodies our values of knowledge, integrity and compassion, and their hard work and dedication to their educational pursuits are admired.”

American Heritage is open all year at both campuses. It also provides an extensive summer program from June to August for children and teens ages 3 to 17 from all over the world. The offerings include traditional day camps, specialty and sports camps, the Summer Institute, available in-person and online with more than 100 courses designed for every student interest, and 1-on-1 tutoring. This comprehensive summer enrichment ensures students are prepared or ahead for the next school year and gives them a competitive advantage to succeed.

American Heritage Schools will continue to set high standards for growth and learning and prepare the next generation of global thinkers and problem solvers to succeed.

American Heritage Schools’ Palm Beach campus is located at 6200 Linton Blvd., just east of Jog Road. For more information, call (561) 495-7272 or visit


Fostering A Love Of Learning

Fostering A Love Of Learning
Principal Dana Pallaria Is Proud Of The Unique Dual-Language Program At New Horizons Elementary School

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

New Horizons Elementary School opened in 1988 as the second elementary school serving the fast-growing community of Wellington. Today, the school on Greenbriar Blvd. is led by Principal Dana Pallaria.

Wellington takes pride in its top-rated schools, and that includes New Horizons, which features a unique dual-language Spanish program. The school has been ranked third in the United States as a Dual Language International Spanish Academy, and Pallaria aims to take it to No. 1.

“In the three years since I have been here, I have been successful in growing our dual-language program by adding two VPK dual-language classrooms,” Pallaria said. “This has allowed me to open up the opportunity to begin a bilingual and biliterate journey for our three- and four-year-old students. Ultimately, I’d like to take the program through eighth grade. Our students have an advantage over most because my goal is to provide a program that fosters a love of learning, a love of learning about other cultures, and the opportunity to learn two or sometimes three languages. English-speaking students will continue their education learning Spanish, and Spanish-speaking students will be able to maintain their native language and enhance their English into middle and high school.”

Pallaria herself didn’t have the same opportunity growing up. In fact, elementary school was a bit of a challenge for her as her family moved through several states.

“I went to kindergarten in Glendale, California; moved to New Jersey for first and second grade; and onto Long Island, New York, for third through sixth grade,” Pallaria recalled. “I finally landed back where I was born, in New Hartford, New York, for sixth grade through high school. I struggled with learning slightly due to moving, but I always had great teachers and the support of my parents. I thank them all.”

By fifth grade, Pallaria knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students and foster a love of learning,” she said.

Pallaria earned a degree in English with a minor in elementary education from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, and began pursuing a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Oswego. In 1992, Pallaria started out teaching science at a private school in New York, then taught third grade at a public school in Syracuse.

In 1998, craving the warmth of the Sunshine State and wanting to be near her relocated family, Pallaria took a job teaching second grade at Jerry Thomas Elementary School in Jupiter. Eventually, she moved on to teaching fifth grade and becoming the ESE contact, helping students with special needs.

It was then that Pallaria realized that she wanted to make a bigger impact and earned her educational leadership degree at Florida Atlantic University and became the learning team facilitator at Berkshire Elementary School in West Palm Beach. After one year there, she went on to become the assistant principal at Grassy Waters Elementary School, remaining there for five years.

“I reached my goal of principalship in 2019 at New Horizons,” Pallaria said. “In that time, we have grown from 700 students to nearly 800. Some of New Horizons’ highlights, I believe, are the partnerships we hold with the Norton Museum of Art and the Ministry of Spain. As only one of three Dual Language International Spanish Academies in the Palm Beach County School District, we work very closely with the Ministry of Education in Spain to support our program. They recruit Spanish educators to come work in our school and share their experiences with our students, staff and the community. I believe being bilingual is very powerful and, when students learn about other cultures and learn the language at such an early age, it is so beneficial to their academic and personal success.”

As with education worldwide, the pandemic took its toll.

“Although I have had a challenging first three years, I feel the biggest success I have had has been building positive relationships and a trusting partnership with our community, staff and students. We are very close-knit,” Pallaria said. “The biggest challenge has been maintaining morale and ensuring my staff is safe with all the challenges they themselves and the students in their classrooms have faced. We principals have had to handle things that we were not schooled on how to handle. As for the students, they have gone through some life changes that students in the past haven’t gone through. I believe every student needs support from both their family and their school, but today’s students and families need more support now than ever before.”

Personally, Pallaria has always had the support she needed.

“My mom has been the biggest influence in my career,” she said. “She has always supported me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams and goals as a future woman leader. My mom answered the phone at all hours of the day and night. If I was struggling with completing work or studying for a test, she was there to provide me with extra moral support and encouragement. She often said, ‘One more test, one more month. You got this.’”

Pallaria has played that forward by providing her staff with inspirational quotes and messages daily.

“There has never been a day in my life where my parents weren’t there the minute I needed them,” she said. “I firmly believe that, to be successful in your career and in life, you have to have a support system. My family has been there through the easiest and hardest times in my life. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my mom and dad. They taught me to have grit, be kind, be patient, set high expectations and never give up. I can’t thank them enough for their unconditional love and continued support to help me achieve my goals, even as an adult. As a leader, I work to provide my staff with the same support, passion and dedication.”

Pallaria’s own children, Isabella and Peter, are both graduating from college this year, one as an engineer and one as a doctor of physical therapy. Both attended Palm Beach County public schools.

While Pallaria loves her job at New Horizons, she is always up for new challenges.

“I love to learn and be challenged, so I hope to have the opportunity to become a leader of a middle school or high school, and then, potentially, an instructional leader coaching future leaders,” she said.


Rising To Meet Every Challenge

Rising To Meet Every Challenge Principal Cara Hayden Helps Students And Faculty Thrive At Wellington High School 

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Back when Wellington was a fledgling community, there was no local high school. Teenagers were bused far away to schools on the coast. That all changed in 1988 with the long-awaited opening of Wellington High School on Greenview Shores Blvd.

For nearly 35 years now, Wellington High School has been educating and graduating generations of Wolverines at a school known for its strong academics and unique special programs, burnishing the Village of Wellington’s reputation for great local schools.

Since 2018, Wellington High School has been led by Principal Cara Hayden, who took over for longtime Principal Mario Crocetti when he retired.

Hayden is someone who rises to meet every challenge, and she has been doing so since back in her own high school days, which were split between two different states — the first half in northern California, and the second half in Plantation, Florida. The one constant was her involvement in sports.

“My life was filled with athletics,” Hayden said. “I was doing varsity swimming and playing varsity water polo all four years. When I wasn’t doing sports, I was always working to take care of myself. I worked to save up enough money for college and to buy a car.”

Upon graduation, she was accepted into Florida State University, where she earned three degrees over the next nine years, including a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I wanted to work with at-risk kids,” Hayden recalled. “I wanted to help them know that there’s something more out there than what is in their immediate social life.”

So, Hayden began her journey as a social worker.

“But then I saw that kids with disabilities weren’t getting equal access to high level courses and other services, so I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in disabilities and emotional disturbances.”

From 2000 to 2009, Hayden taught algebra and geometry to students who had trouble learning, then became a specialist on the subject. “I traveled from school to school, teaching students and showing teachers how to better teach them,” she explained.

An FSU certification in educational leadership in hand, Hayden made her biggest advance when the principal of one of the schools on her itinerary, Santaluces High School, created an assistant principal position especially for her.

“I was an assistant principal there for five years,” Hayden said. “I helped the school become an A-rated school and worked to make sure all students graduated. Then I got the call to become principal at Wellington High School.”

Hayden was excited by the opportunity to lead a school with such a stellar reputation.

“I always knew that I wanted to impact as many students as I could,” she said. “I wanted to eventually be able to run my own school and make sure all students received all the services they deserved.”

As if leading a high school with 2,700 students isn’t challenging enough, Hayden arrived at a challenging time.

“Coming to Wellington has been one of my greatest challenges. As soon as I arrived, the Stoneman Douglas incident occurred,” she recalled, referring to the deadly February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. “So, I had to take a school I’d only been in one month and change most policies to ensure the safety of our students and to do the best I could to make sure something like that didn’t happen at WHS.”

Then, just two years later, COVID-19 altered the landscape once again. Being suddenly thrust into remote learning presented its own challenges.

“I would say we’ve all learned a tremendous amount, and these tragedies have brought our staff and students much closer,” Hayden said. “We’ve learned to work as a team and to collaborate better than we would have if we hadn’t had to turn the school into a virtual school.”

Despite everything, Wellington High School continues to thrive. It is home to award-winning programs, both academic and extracurricular. It is home to four highly regarded choice academies: Equine/Pre-Veterinary, Fine Arts, Fire Science and Marketing.

“Each year, we see more students graduating from WHS with the tools and training that prepare them for college and the work force,” Hayden said. “We have record numbers earning AICE diplomas, college credits and industry certifications. Our athletic teams continue to achieve athletically and academically. Each of our performing arts groups — band, chorus, dance and theater — have earned Superior ratings at interscholastic competitions. Finally, we’ve expanded our leadership offerings beyond student government to include Latinos in Action, Link Crew and the Black Leadership & Achievement Student Team (BLAST).”

Personally, Hayden is thankful for the support she got from so many people along the way, such as Deputy Superintendent Edward Tierney; Keith Oswald, currently the school district’s chief of equity and wellness; and Dreyfoos School of the Arts Principal Blake Bennett. Each helped her at key points in her career.

“I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve worked with a lot of great people. Keith Oswald was a principal when I was teaching and gave me my first opportunity to step into a leadership role,” she said. “Edward Tierney was at Boynton Beach High School when I was teaching math there. He’s a very serious guy, and he came into my class to observe, wearing a very serious face. At end of class, he told me it was the best math class he had ever seen. Since then, he has always looked out for me. As a teacher, I did work incredibly hard and did everything I was supposed to do with the best intentions for all my students. Also Blake Bennett, who was an assistant principal back then, all three of them have really helped shape my career.”

Hayden is most proud of the amazing work done by the students at Wellington High School through challenging times.

“Even though students have had to adapt to a series of abrupt changes and unusual challenges over the past two years, at their core, kids still value the same things about being part of a school as always. They’ve always been supportive of their peers; now they have more social emotional learning skills to help their friends and classmates,” she said. “Students wish to be part of meaningful clubs and organizations; now, they know how to extend those efforts beyond meetings and classrooms by using social media and digital resources. Most importantly, they want to be seen, heard and valued.”

Hayden remains as excited about her position at WHS as the first day she arrived four years ago.

“I plan to hang out here as long as they’ll have me,” she said. “I want to continue to see our students be safe, have a meaningful learning environment and continue to grow academically and socially. I want to see human kindness. I want the students leaving Wellington High School to become citizens that we are all going to be proud of.”