Palmetto Senior first high school to achieve ‘School of Excellence Designation’

Miami Palmetto Senior High School (MPSH) was recently named a National PTA School of Excellence for the 2016-2018 school years, a prestigious designation that supports and celebrates partnerships between PTAs and schools that work to improve the educational experience and school environment for every child.

“This award is really rare at the high school level,” said MPSH PTSA immediate past president Anna Hochkammer, who led the school’s certification process. “Palmetto Senior is the only high school in Miami-Dade County ever to receive this award, and one of only four in the entire State of Florida since the program was instituted.”

Palmetto Senior is a PTSA; secondary schools add an “s” to represent and include student members.

The National PTA School of Excellence program helps PTAs and schools strengthen family-school partnerships to benefit all students, Hochkammer explained. It was a year-long process during which parents were surveyed at both the beginning and the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Data from the fall family survey was used to generate a customized “Roadmap to Excellence,” which provided recommendations to help the school strengthen its family-school partnership. The spring survey evaluated Palmetto Senior’s progress toward these goals.

“Clearly, we had a banner year,” Hochkammer said. “But this year’s successes built on our PTSA’s already strong offerings.”

Membership numbers and volunteer hours increased, and the school also implemented several award-winning initiatives in support of its goal of continuously improving family engagement.

One key component of the Roadmap was to better engage non-English speaking parents. A groundbreaking new program, Palmetto Ambassadors, was created to provide person-to-person mentoring in 12 of the most common home languages as identified by school staff, including Spanish, Russian, Korean, Mandarin and Farsi. The PTSA enlisted parent and student speakers as volunteer interpreters and mentors for students and families unfamiliar with English and the American educational system. Multilingual “welcome” signs were also placed in key locations and a revamped multilingual website won Miami-Dade County Council recognition.

Other initiatives included sponsoring presentations and programs by nationally known experts in parenting as well as practical college, test prep and career advice for students (including a College Fair), and a new, strategically placed suggestion box for anonymous input. The school’s first-ever Twilight Color Run in conjunction with the Village of Palmetto Bay cemented ties to local businesses and communities, and earned Palmetto Bay recognition as Miami-Dade County Council of PTA’s 2016 Community Partner.

These inclusive measures complemented ones already in place: the “Paws for Panthers” program that provides homeless students with basic necessities, prom tickets, and graduation gowns while preserving their anonymity and dignity; the school’s designation as an Anti-Defamation League “No Place for Hate;” strong Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and weekly e-newsletter communications, and more.

“We are so fortunate to have a strong PTSA at Palmetto Senior,” said MPSH Principal Victoria Dobbs. “The PTA School of Excellence designation is truly an honor and celebrates and recognizes our commitment to work together to enrich the educational experience for all our students.”

“The path to excellence is a journey, not a destination, and we encourage your continued participation,” adds current PTSA president Dina Lara. “We are extremely proud of the work that our PTSA has done to enrich the educational experience and overall well-being of all students. A heartfelt thanks to Anna Hochkammer, 2014-2016 PTSA President, for her leadership through the certification process, the entire 2015-2016 PTSA Board, and especially Dr. Nancy Lawther, who chaired the School of Excellence project from start to finish.”

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