The beginning of the 2019-2020 school year has brought several changes for both the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In addition to new classes, teachers, and students, the pupils at MSD are also welcoming their new principal, Michelle Kefford.
Before taking on the role of MSD principal, Kefford held the same title at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines for nine years. During the 2018-2019 school year, she won the State of Florida’s Principal of the Year award.
In addition to her previous experience as a principal, Kefford taught at MSD in the science department as a biology teacher for six years. As she furthered her educational career, Kefford stayed within the boundaries of the Broward County School System.
“I had a lot of great examples at MSD and a lot of great mentors,” Kefford said. “I feel like it laid the foundation and shaped the person I am today.”
Kefford visited MSD at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, when she was invited by MSD’s acting principal, Ty Thompson, to revisit the school. Before beginning her term at MSD, Kefford was excited to see how her old teaching grounds had changed since she was away.
“Thompson and I spent the day going over some of the different things with the school; the different programs and things that are going on. I cannot wait to get to meet with everyone and interact with everyone,” Kefford said in an interview with the Eagle Eye in May 2019. “As a principal, I can be very involved and the students are my favorite part of the job. I cannot wait to get to know the students very well and help celebrate their successes and walk with them on this journey.”
Despite the mixed emotions following the announcement that Kefford would be replacing Thompson as the MSD principal, some teachers have come to embrace the change.
“I think that she is going to be a great addition [to MSD] because she is ready to start getting to work,” science teacher Caitlin Hanley said. “She’s a very clear, glass person, making sure people see and know what’s going on at school.”
Now that she is officially leading the school’s administration, Kefford is ready to begin helping the school make progress. The first act Kefford made as principal was to implement a new school-wide tardy policy.
“I think the tardy policy is a really good thing,” English teacher Sarah Lerner said. “It holds students more accountable, especially my fifth period seniors. I don’t like teaching to myself, and the policy gets them to class faster.”
One initiative Kefford started is Kefford’s Kitchen, a once-a-month lunchtime get together between her and ten select students.
“I thought that would give me a good opportunity to connect with the students,” Kefford said. “I’m really excited about having the opportunity to eat with my kids. Honestly, that’s the best part of this job; it’s why we [educators] do what we do.”
The emotional health of both students and staff has become a priority at MSD since the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. With the arrival of the Wellness Center and its subsequent counselors, the topic of mental health has become more open for discussion. Kefford hopes to continue this trend during her new position as principal. Not only does she plan to address the emotional requirements of her students, but Kefford also hopes that they come to see her as someone they can turn to.
“Just being able to listen to their needs and being able to deploy the resources, wherever they’re necessary, whatever they may be,” Kefford said. “It’s determining what each student needs on an individual basis and providing those resources, whether it be academic, whether it’s social or emotional.”
When it comes to the staff at MSD, Kefford plans to get to know them on a more personal level. In addition to Kefford’s Kitchen, principal Kefford started Mid-Week Muffins with Michelle. While Kefford’s Kitchen is aimed towards students, Mid-Week Muffins with Michelle is focused on teachers, as an opportunity for them to voice any concerns they may have.
“The teachers will have the opportunity to come in and speak with me once a month and speak to me freely,” Kefford said. “But they can also come to me anytime. Relationships are very, very important to me.”
Being there for the student body is not all there is to being a principal. Principals have to worry about graduation rates, test scores, and accumulating school accolades.
“We already have the foundations for excellence; we have excellence,” Kefford said. “What we have to do is, we have to just make sure we are very strategic about how we are doing our curriculum [and] very strategic about how the learning opportunities we are providing to our kids are formatted. The rest will take care of itself.”
While the new tardy policy has been implemented since the first day of the new school year, more changes have yet to be made. Kefford has been taking her time and examining every process already in place at MSD in order to determine what needs to be altered.
“Right now we’re just in the process where we’re making small adjustments to things,” Kefford said. “It’s all collaborative; I would never want to come in and dictate a change being made without the cooperation of all the people involved in the decision.”
Despite almost 20 years of educational experience under her belt, Kefford’s term as principal at MSD is still in its infancy. As the school year continues, so will her efforts to help improve the standards of education and emotional well-being at MSD.
This story was originally published in the October 2019 Eagle Eye Print Edition.