Wellington’s Principals Credit Teachers And Unique Programs For Strong School Grades
If there’s one thing overall that attracts young families to choose Wellington, it’s the community’s top-performing public schools. There are six elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools that serve the Wellington area — and all 11 are consistently A-rated schools in the State of Florida’s annual grade reports.
What makes Wellington schools so successful? To get the answers, Wellington The Magazine spoke to all 11 principals. Not surprisingly, they gave much of the credit to their teachers.
“At Palm Beach Central High School, excellence is never assumed, but always pursued,” Principal Darren Edgecomb said. “Our school is a microcosm of society. Our diversity is our strength. Our classroom teachers are the single greatest factor in our students’ success. They believe that each student has greatness inside.”
“We have bilingual teachers in every grade level who can relate to children and their families,” said Dana Pallaria, principal at New Horizons Elementary School. “We have teachers who care about students and go above and beyond every day to ensure that students are successful emotionally, physically, socially and mentally.”
“Our teachers are absolutely amazing,” added Michella Levy, principal of Binks Forest Elementary School. “They work countless hours to ensure that our students get what they need academically and emotionally. We love our students, families and the Village of Wellington for all their support.”
“Our teachers develop rigorous lessons to meet the needs of all learners. Their dedication and perseverance are evident when you enter any classroom,” explained Blake Bennett, principal at Wellington Landings Middle School. “Teachers take the time to get to know their students, and that translates to higher achievement in the classroom. They work together to plan, remediate student gaps in knowledge and use data to drive best instructional practices, which is beneficial for new teachers and experienced teachers joining our staff.”
“The majority of our dedicated professionals have taught only at our school, including several who have been in this profession for 15-plus years,” said Edilia De La Vega, principal of Panther Run Elementary School. “We are a family. When an initiative is implemented at our school, it is accomplished with 100 percent buy-in, and that is why we are so successful.”
“Our teachers know the importance of working together to disaggregate data, share knowledge and discuss multiple ways to reach students, especially those struggling academically, emotionally or socially,” said Michele Johnson, principal at Equestrian Trails Elementary School. “Our teachers have been completing professional development in STEM education, and their efforts have been phenomenal. They are not afraid to try something new.”
Wellington Elementary School Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan echoed the others when she said that her teachers are relentless in their efforts to reach every child. “They are dedicated professionals with a myriad of experience and expertise,” she said. “With the recent changes to the mode of instructional delivery due to COVID-19, our teachers exemplify resilience, which is part of our core values at WES.”
“The teachers at Emerald Cove Middle School care about their students and their social and emotional well-being,” Principal Dr. Eugina Smith Feaman added. “They understand that in order to reach a student academically, they must build a relationship with them. We pride ourselves in getting to know the needs of our students, then working innovatively and cooperatively with them so they succeed.”
“What sets our teachers apart is their extreme dedication and commitment to the success of all students,” explained Gail Pasterczyk, principal at Elbridge Gale Elementary School. “Many provide tutoring before school, after school and on the weekends. Some do remediation during their lunch and break times of their own choosing. They attend training programs. They also incorporate a significant amount of technology.”
“Our teachers always go the extra mile,” stressed Michael Aronson, principal of Polo Park Middle School. “The amount of time that goes into planning meaningful and interactive lessons is obvious as I walk classes and listen to the students talk about their teachers. The amount of time that many of our teachers put in after school and on weekends, working with students via e-mail or Google Classroom, sets us apart from many other schools.”
“I am proud to work with a faculty that includes teachers who have been here since the school’s inception 30 years ago, as well as more than 20 WHS graduates,” said Cara Hayden, principal at Wellington High School. “They perfect their craft with continuous professional development. Our department chairs foster a spirit of collegiality, constantly working with newer teachers to share their best practices. When professional educators come to Wellington High School, they stay at Wellington High School.”
While teachers get the credit, a healthy mission and strong school vision for the future always helps.
“Binks Forest Elementary School is a neighborhood school,” Levy explained. “We have high expectations and do whatever it takes to make sure that all students make a year or more growth in a year’s time. We look at the individual needs of each student, create schedules and align resources to meet their needs.”
“We focus on developing the whole child,” added Bennett of Wellington Landings. “We offer a wide array of elective classes, as well as before-school and after-school activities, sports, intramurals, tutoring and clubs. On any given day, we may have 500 students participating in an after-school activity. We offer 12 high school credit courses, and all students can access these. Also, we offer technology and arts academies. Students love taking these classes and will often ask me if we can have one more period each day so they can take more of the electives.”
“We have a strong, collaborative relationship with our PTA, school advisory board and business partners,” Panther Run’s De La Vega said. “All stakeholders’ opinions are valued and considered when making decisions that affect the school population. We believe in the importance of educating each child to be a culturally competent citizen. We offer gifted/high-achieving classes in grades K through 5, an accelerated mathematics program in grades 3 through 5 and our ESE teachers provide the best inclusive environment for all learners to be successful, ensuring that equity and access is equal among all of our demographics.”
“Equestrian Trails is a strong community of staff, parents, community members and students,” Johnson said. “We collaborate and strive to prepare students for their future, academically, emotionally, socially and are always looking for innovative strategies and programs to help students in all capacities. We embrace change and challenge ourselves to think outside the box to reach all students. Our vision is to instill in every child the importance of working together through collaboration, communication, creativity and creative thinking in order to solve real-world problems and compete in a global society.”
“High school is a pivotal time for young people,” said Hayden of WHS. “We are committed to opening doors of opportunity to all of our kids. Our career and choice academies offer world-class instruction to students who are passionate about science, technology, business and the arts. In addition to student government and DECA, we are adding dedicated courses for our Link Crew (mentors for ninth graders), Latinos in Action and BLAST (Black Leadership & Achievement Student Team). We offer Advanced Placement and dual enrollment, and an athletics program loaded with professional veteran coaches who are experts in their field.”
“New Horizons Elementary is ranked third in the nation for being an ISA (International Spanish Academy) school,” Pallaria said. “We offer dual language classes beginning at age 4 through fifth grade. Students have the opportunity to be bilingual, even if their family doesn’t speak Spanish. New Horizons has teachers who come from Spain for three years to teach. Our students are fully bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. We prepare them to be culturally competent citizens with a respect for others and their differences.”
“Our diverse culture of students contributes to the amazing learning environment at our school,” Palm Beach Central’s Edgecomb said. “Leadership is often observed from the balcony view. This allows me to see the array of rigorous educational opportunities available for each student. Our student population is 38 percent Hispanic, 34 percent White and 21 percent Black. We have 50 percent of our population participating in the free/reduced lunch program. In addition, we serve approximately 400 ESE and 200 ELL students. All of these various groups contribute greatly to our school academic success and school culture.”
“Emerald Cove Middle School students, teachers and staff give their all each day to help make the school a success,” Smith Feaman said. “The teamwork, dedication and innovation shown makes the difference. Emerald Cove has a pre-information technology program and is an AVID school. We utilize various effective teaching strategies to scaffold learning for our students. In addition, we stress the performing and fine arts, and we encourage students to be active and well-rounded.”
“Elbridge Gale is the only school in the district to have nationally certified STEM teachers,” Pasterczyk said. “We also have numerous technology trailblazers, along with Google-certified teachers. We have four award-winning robotics teams that have gone to regional and state finals. One of the teams was given a prestigious invitation to the world competition this year.”
“Our school deserves an A because of the hard work that our students, teachers and school community put forth every day,” Polo Park’s Aronson said. “Together, we have forged a culture and climate that is overwhelmingly positive, and that shows every day in the pride that our school community has.”
“Our Fine Arts Academy sets us apart,” said Vaughan of Wellington Elementary. “The program includes visual arts, stage production, handbells, TV production and an impressive strings program. Since the inception of the academy in 2016, the points earned for the school grade have increased 76 percent. We could not achieve this without the support of all stakeholders — our teachers, staff, parents, volunteers, business partners and community members. We really believe that ‘it takes a village.’ We have parents and staff members who attended WES as students, so some students have the same teacher their parents did, which is a very special experience.”
The Village of Wellington is unique in that it directly supports Wellington’s 11 schools via the Keely Spinelli Grant Program, named in memory of the late Binks Forest principal. Since its inception, more than $2 million in grants have been awarded, earmarked to help students who are struggling in reading and math. The principals are grateful for the support, noting that it helps keep the school grades high.
“We are so fortunate to have a community that directly supports our schools,” said Bennett of Wellington Landings. “I have never seen a municipality take such a vested interest in schools and follow through. The support has been unparalleled. Thanks to them, we are able to provide tutoring, special programming and materials to meet the individual needs of struggling learners.”
“The village gives us funding to provide tutorials and purchase resources in order to serve the needs of all students in both reading and math,” said Levy of Binks Forest. “We also look at the whole child to make sure that their emotional and mental needs are met.”
“Since Equestrian Trails is not a Title 1 school, we do not receive funding to support our lowest 25 percent,” Johnson said. “The Keely Spinelli Grant has enabled us to train teachers, purchase intensive programs and hire personnel to help struggling students meet standards and improve in language and math. Wellington demonstrates that it cares deeply about students, and it’s what sets us apart from other areas.”
“This grant allows us to ensure that all students are able to receive the extra assistance they may need to be successful in their academic classes,” said Hayden of WHS. “It funds summer academic programs and tutorial programs in algebra 1, geometry, reading, writing, biology, U.S. history and online credit remediation.”
“I couldn’t be more thankful for this grant,” said Pallaria of New Horizons. “It has provided our school with state-of-the-art technology and tools; allowed us to offer a daily structured and rigorous tutorial program to fill in the gaps of learning for struggling students; and enables teachers to utilize engaging educational computer programs.”
“We only succeed when all students succeed,” Palm Beach Central’s Edgecomb said. “The Spinelli Grant provides us with additional academic resources, lunch tutorials, after-school tutorials and Saturday tutorials. It would be extremely difficult for us to finance all of these additional opportunities without it. The Village of Wellington is extremely unique in the way it supports academic success for all students.”
“The Keely Spinelli Grant has had a huge impact on our efforts at WES,” Vaughan said. “The funds are used to provide additional intensive support for students through tutoring, as well as provide the opportunity for us to purchase much-needed resources and programs to expand and enhance the educational experience for our students.”
“The grants have helped to make Emerald Cove a success,” Smith Feaman agreed. “The grant has been used to purchase Chromebooks for student use and has funded the tutorial program Pirate Academy, as well as other programs and materials. This has allowed us to differentiate instruction, provide scaffolded instruction and work to close the academic gap.”
“The grant has allowed us to provide remediation to struggling students in all grade levels,” Elbridge Gale’s Pasterczyk said. “We have been able to hire additional staff to provide leveled literacy intervention in reading. We have learning gains and achievement in reading that would not have been possible without this additional support. We have also increased math achievement and remain in the top 10 percent in the district with math and science tutoring.”
“We use the grant to offset the cost of tutoring and purchasing needed technology and programs that enhance the learning process for our struggling students. We would not be able to do this without the grant,” Polo Park’s Aronson said. “The Village of Wellington has been an exceptional partner in the continued growth of our school.”
“This funding has allowed us to truly meet the academic and social-emotional needs of all of our students,” Panther Run’s De La Vega explained. “We are able to purchase new technology and resources, and to hire additional tutoring teachers who provide targeted, small-group instruction to the students in the lowest 25 percent. This grant permits all the students at Panther Run to be successful. This is what sets the Wellington schools apart and makes this truly a great hometown to live and work in.”
There is no doubt that the ongoing COVID-19 emergency will change how education in Wellington takes place this year. However, with a strong, A-rated foundation, Wellington schools stand ready to meet this unique challenge.