Western Academy Principal Linda Terranova Proud Of Her Students’ Success
Story by Chris Felker
Photos by Abner Pedraza
Linda Terranova’s success in running one of Palm Beach County’s oldest charter schools is remarkable, especially considering the fact that she actually schooled herself in how to pull it off.
Terranova got her own education in Florida’s public schools (for which charters have been designed as an alternative) and Florida’s university system. She started the process to establish Western Academy Charter School in 2001. It opened in 2003 as the first charter school in the western communities, mandated by its founding papers to serve students in Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, the Acreage/Loxahatchee area and western Lake Worth. The school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
For prospective students and their parents, the academy’s web site lists its considerable advantages — 17 of them. Among its top achievements are the fact that Western Academy has been an A-rated school according to Florida Department of Education standards as measured by standardized tests for going on 10 consecutive years, it has been cited as an FDOE High Performing Charter School since 2011 and it has earned the state’s 5-Star School rating for connections with the community every year since 2010.
As Terranova pointed out, Western Academy stands alone locally with that last designation.
“We were the first, and are the only, school in Palm Beach County that is 5-Star rated. And it really is outstanding, not to be bragging, to maintain an A for that long,” she said. “In our state scores last year on the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment), the new test, we beat the district and the state at every single grade level for every single test.”
Those successes for the not-for-profit school make Terranova very proud, especially since she not only founded Western Academy, but also has served as its principal since the school’s second year of existence. She had to go back to school for that, having never been even a teacher, much less a CEO of any sort.
Terranova is quick to credit the team behind the scenes who helped her get Western Academy up and running, but her passion has been key to the school’s success. That much is apparent in how she describes her beginning in the charter-school movement and what she has done at Western Academy.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in mass communications/advertising with a minor in business management from the University of South Florida in Tampa in the 1980s, she worked in advertising for nine years, meanwhile getting married and starting a family. Her older son, Vinny, 19, who graduated from Palm Beach Central High School last year, has a disability. He and his brother, Joey, now a senior at Wellington High School, both graduated from Western Academy. Terranova cites Vinny as the reason for her second career.
“He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He was in some of the pre-K programs at Wellington Elementary School… but I quickly realized once he went into kindergarten and mainstream classes that they were not going to be able to support his needs,” Terranova recalled. “The only option was putting him in an autistic unit, which was very restricted at the time. I wasn’t happy with that for my child because he is very smart, he could learn. He didn’t have behavioral issues — he just needed more time and more patience.”
That’s when Terranova got involved in the charter school movement.
“I met some women who were involved in charter schools,” she said. “They told me about it; I educated myself; and that’s when I looked into it with the school district. I started writing the application in 2001.”
Western Academy began as a small operation. “We started with one class of each grade, kindergarten through eighth,” Terranova explained. “We had 157 students initially in a 10,000-square-foot building, and quickly realized that there was a much greater need in this community for a school like ours. At one point, our waiting list was up to 700 people. We’ve done four expansions over the years, and now we have 460 kids and 41,000 square feet.”
Growing pains were difficult at first. “The first couple of years were very stressful, setting up procedures and undergoing constant changes,” Terranova said, especially after the school’s principal left after the first year. “We started a search for a new principal our second year, and the board asked me to step in as an interim leader.”
After interviewing principal prospects, the board ended up asking Terranova to stay on.
“The board asked me to go back and get the necessary certification and take over and run the school,” she said. “So that’s what I did. I enrolled in Lynn University and went to get my master’s degree in educational leadership. That took me a little over a year; it was a huge learning curve for me.”
Terranova immersed herself in all the academic studies, professional development and educational skill classes she could, becoming versed on the latest teaching techniques.
Two innovative programs that she instituted have contributed greatly to students’ outstanding scores. One is the Project CHILD (Changing How Instruction for Learning is Delivered) mode of instruction used in kindergarten through fifth-grade classes, in which the kids stay with the same teachers and the same group of kids for three years.
“This is great because the teachers are becoming specialists in those benchmarks for their subjects,” Terranova said. “It’s three 90-minute rotations, instead of hour classes, so they can really have a lot of time to jump into learning.”
The school has been a K-5 Project CHILD National Demonstration Site since 2011.
In middle-school classes, interdisciplinary teaching teams are used for all core content. Another special program is the middle school STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Academy, which was began last year for high-level students and will finish rolling out for all eighth-grade classes next year.
Terranova finds her second career in education to be extremely rewarding.
“I know we’re making a difference. I know we’re providing a high-quality education to these students who walk in our door every day,” she said. “We’re making it happen. We’re not taking in these Level 5 students; we’re creating these Level 5 students at our school. My teachers are doing that every day under my leadership.”
Western Academy Charter School is located at 650 Royal Palm Beach Blvd., Suite 400, in Royal Palm Beach. To learn more, call (561) 792-4123 or visit www.westernacademycharter.com.