Florida’s Principal of the Year to lead Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Florida’s 2019 principal of the year is slated to become Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s new leader.

Michelle Kefford would replace Principal Ty Thompson, who announced his resignation three weeks ago,  citing health and family issues. Thompson will complete his term as principal for the remainder of this school year.

The recommendation was announced during a May 13 news conference by Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, calling his choice “an outstanding leader… we couldn’t be more proud … to be able to recommend someone that is so qualified to fill this important role.”  The school board is expected to approve of the replacement in June.

The school is still healing from the shooting last Valentine’s Day in which a Stoneman Douglas student opened fire during school hours, killing 17 people. The tragedy has made national headlines over the past year and was labeled the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Thompson was not on campus when the shooting took place.

While she has not had the opportunity to establish plans for her new position, Kefford said at the news conference that she will utilize the coming weeks to determine her trajectory for the school. “My vision is to continue the great path that Stoneman Douglas is on.”

Kefford referred interview requests to the school district. It said Kefford is not available now.

Last year, the district recognized Kefford as 2018’s principal of the year for Broward County. The award-winning principal holds multiple degrees from Florida institutions, including a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida State University, a Master of Science in Science Education from Florida International University and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

Kefford has been a part of the Broward education system since 1999 ,according to the school district’s website. Her academic career began at Stoneman Douglas 20 years ago as a biology teacher, and she remained there until 2005. She said during the press conference that she is excited “to go back home,” adding, “The experience at Douglas is what inspired me to go into school leadership.”

For the past eight years Kefford has been the principal at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, where the school earned its first ever “A” rating under her guidance and has remained so for six of the of her seven years as leader. The 44-year-old is a Parkland resident and has a son attending his first year at Stoneman Douglas.

This is not the first administrative change for the school since the massacre. Last year, Teresa Hall was added as co-principal to manage the day-to-day operations after Thompson and four other MSD staff members were put under investigation by the Broward School Board for their roles during the 2018 incident. In November, three assistant principals as well as a security specialist were moved to other jobs while Thompson remained at MSD.

Kefford’s introduction will eventually eliminate the two-principal system, which was a temporary measure put in place by the school board.

When asked about Thompson’s future in education, Runcie revealed Thompson has made a request to remain in the Broward school system in a different capacity. No decision has been made yet, according to the superintendent.

Max Schachter, a Parkland parent who lost his son 14-year-old son, Alex Schachter, in the shooting, was optimistic about the incoming principal.

“Obviously her winning the principal-of-the-year award is a good sign that she knows what she is doing ….  I’m glad this decision has been made. I think it’s the right choice,” said Schachter.

He hoped a decision such as this would have come immediately following the devastation, rather than more than a year later. Describing the school board as indecisive over the multiple administrative shakeups, he said, “[A] piecemeal approach … it was just very confusing and upsetting for all of the children and staff to do it in such an unorganized fashion.”

Since losing his son, Schachter, like other parents of Parkland victims, has worked to progress policies toward school safety around the nation, taking his efforts in numerous trips Washington D.C.

He hopes the new principal addresses the climate and culture of the school.

“It’s a campus-wide effort,” he said. “Kids need to be empowered to report threats and violence that administration is going to do something … that they can come forward and have trusted advisors that care about them.”