‘It was the best professional development that I had ever been through’

“My predecessor—it’s almost like following Bear Bryant in the sense that he was the superintendent here for seven years,” says Dr. Jonathan Prince, superintendent of St. Lucie Public Schools. During that time Prince served as deputy superintendent, where he would contribute to the district’s success in becoming one of the top 10 districts in the state of Florida for graduation rate and one of the highest-performing communities in terms of academics.

“For the first time on what we call the Treasure Coast, based on the most recent performance on our standardized test, we were the highest performing district. That has never happened,” Prince says.

SLPS is a high-poverty district, he adds. Yet, they’ve been able to outperform districts that don’t have the same challenges.

“This the sixth consecutive year that our graduation rates have exceeded 90% in the state of Florida,” he notes. “Only four counties out of 67 in Florida can say that.”

And in 2022, his time came to take over the helm at SLPS. Although he had big shoes to fill, he came armed and ready with the tools to succeed.

Prince is an advisory board member of the District Administration Leadership Institute, an opportunity that he says has helped drive his district’s success from a leadership perspective.

They’re gearing up to send their second cohort of principals through DA’s Principal Leadership Academy after seeing just how impactful it was for their first bunch.

“I sent my chief of schools through the leadership academy and the professional development he got was really powerful,” he says. “They had the principal cohorts for the principal training and we wanted to send a cohort through of about seven or eight principals, and each ranged from newer principals to principals who were veterans.”

Photo from District Administration’s Principal Leadership Academy.

Several of them questioned why more PD was even necessary. “They thought they were being punished,” he says, amusedly. Fortunately, it was an experience none of them would regret.

“They went through it and it was like the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he says. “Some of the challenges we have with principals is providing quality professional development for them. And when they went through that, they felt like it really resonated with them and addressed some specific things they could bring back to their campuses and apply.”

In fact, the district was so happy with the outcome that they plan to send all of their principals through the academy.

“We’ve got about seven or eight principals that are going through the second cohort now,” he says. “It’s just been really, really effective professional development.”

Prince is also a product of DA’s Leadership Institute, which he notes he’s grateful for. “I went through their Superintendents Academy in preparation for potentially applying to this job, and it was the best professional development that I had ever been through,” he says. “And you pay it forward.”

SLPS' first cohort of principals at the District Administration Principal Leadership Academy.
SLPS’ first cohort of principals at the District Administration Principal Leadership Academy.

More from DALI: My top three priorities in becoming a new superintendent: Listen, listen, listen

The close of the current school year also marks the end of Prince’s first year as superintendent. As far as priorities lie, Prince says his primary goals for his district in the years to come remain the same: student outcomes and attendance.

“My priorities for student achievement are unchanged,” he explains. “Covid has really had a huge impact on our students in negative ways—the socialization issues that we’re having, the mental health challenges that we’re having with our kids, and really the attendance of our students.”

Absenteeism, he adds, has almost become the norm for students and parents since the pandemic. As families got used to their children missing school, the academic-related consequences soon began piling up, which Prince hopes to reverse.

“They’ve kind of carried that forward to where if their child misses a day, they think, ‘Eh, it’s no big deal.’ But one day compounds and all of a sudden you’ve got 20 to 25 days, and if you’re a first-grade kid, you’ve missed a significant amount of your developmental time, especially with early literacy. So, we’re really putting a new emphasis on attendance, making sure kids are in school and communicating that to parents.”

Register for this summer’s Principal Leadership Academy, June 20-23, 2023