Perez replaces Foster in MHMHS principal’s chair

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Former Moore Haven Middle High School Principal Janice Foster

MOORE HAVEN — There was a changing of the guard and the nameplate in the main office at Moore Haven Middle-High School last week. The school’s principal for the past few years, Janice Foster, retired effective June 30, and Assistant Principal Rosa Perez took over Wednesday, July 1.

There was occasion to catch them both there at the same time one day in late June while they prepared for baccalaureate and graduation exercises quite unlike they’d ever planned — socially distanced as they were, with masked participants wearing caps and gowns sitting with their two guests each in clusters of chairs on the football field. Those ceremonies will be as unforgettable for the Class of 2020 members as they were for Principals Foster and Perez.

The two were intently focused that day on trying to make arrangements for a public graduation ceremony under the dark cloud of the COVID-19 threat, but they made time to reflect on their long careers, share their thoughts and feelings about their transitions and discuss future plans.

As retiring Principal Foster described her extremely varied educational career, it became clear she’d find it difficult to pick any favorite role.
“In 1981, 39-and-a-half years ago, I started out in Hendry County as a sixth-grade teacher and then I eventually went to the high school in Clewiston, as the high school English teacher and yearbook sponsor. Then I was guidance counselor at Clewiston High School, after I left the classroom. And then I transferred to LaBelle as LaBelle’s high school guidance counselor, then I was assistant principal, and then I worked for Hendry County federal programs.

‘Loved everything I’ve done’

“After that is when I came to Glades County, which was about 14 years ago, starting out as assistant principal of Moore Haven Elementary School, and then I went to be director of Exceptional Student Education and Student Services. Then I came here to the high school about three years ago.”

“Yes, it’s been great,” Foster said. “It’d be very hard to pick a favorite. I really loved everything that I’ve done in the district. And I’m really glad that I was able to get that much experience, to be able to see all these jobs in the county, from a teacher to a director to an administrator … the only thing I haven’t done is superintendent, and I’m not going to do that!” she added, drawing a chuckle from Perez. (A new Glades County superintendent of schools is to be elected Nov. 3; she’s not a candidate.)

She has no special reason for retiring now, just that when it gets late in life you want to live a little.

“That’s basically it. I still love what I’m doing, I still love the kids and I’m really going to miss them, and working with them and watching them grow. Seeing them start in sixth grade and then they’re soon graduating, walking across the stage — I’m going to miss all of that. The parents have been so cooperative … I’ve got a good rapport with them, and I can’t say enough about the cooperation that I’ve had from our parents since I’ve been here,” Foster said.

As for immediate plans in retirement, she said she’ll be around for the next several years at least. Her husband is a sergeant in the county sheriff’s department, so “he’s probably going to work a few more years, and then we’re going to travel a little bit. We’re wanting to build a house in Tennessee because we have property up there, but that’s probably going to be a couple more years.

“So … I told Ms. Perez that I’m not going to desert her. If she needs my help I’m here for her and I will volunteer and do whatever I need to do … this county has meant a lot to me, and now that I’m thinking about it, I’m about to cry. They (the school staff) have really meant a lot to me, and I’m always going to be available to them no matter where I am if I can help them,” Foster finished, her voice shaking with emotion.

Perez has a similar career story to Foster’s, as they both began in Hendry County.

Similar backgrounds

On June 30, she celebrated her 30th year in education.

“I graduated as an education major from Palm Beach Atlantic College,” she said. “I went on to get a master’s degree in reading and then a specialist degree in education leadership. I have been in roles from elementary school teacher, reading coach, dean, to assistant principal and then principal, a migrant literacy specialist, and I came back to being assistant principal here.

“For about 27 years I was in Hendry County … and the one thing that I found … is, I miss the kids! And that’s why, when this position became available here (AP at MHMHS) I applied, because, you know, sometimes being in the district office you’re not with kids all the time … plus I really miss just being around students,” Perez said.

As for plans for the 2020-2021 school year, the district will be offering options to parents that include continued distance (online) learning mixed in with physical classroom attendance — although the governor’s order this past week that schools reopen next month hasn’t been officially discussed or figured out yet.

In any case, Perez knows that dual enrollment’s demonstrated success at other schools can be replicated in Glades County and there are plans to expand it.

“We’ve always offered dual enrollment classes. A lot of them have been online — but one of the things that we will be offering is dual enrollment classes on our campus, starting with 11th graders. So hopefully we’ll get these 11th graders to be able to graduate with an A.A. (Associate of Arts) degree.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
New Moore Haven Middle High School Principal Rosa Perez

“Another of the things that I’m looking forward to is bringing more of the Advanced Placement courses … next year, when our kids take the PSAT, (we’ll be) looking at that data and then looking to see which advanced placement courses, using the data from our students, that students will take and be successful. And I will be continuing what we’ve already started here at MHMHS, which is looking at the data on how students are performing, continuing classroom walk-throughs, meeting with teachers, again, just really focusing on the instruction that will help our kids be successful, academically and as human beings, whatever it is their choice to do — go into a work field, a technical school, a state college or university. We just want them to have the life skills that make them successful.”

CTE programs to be expanded

Perez is also looking forward to expansion of Career and Technical Education programs, whose fields will be widening due to the coming development of Airglades International Airport a few miles away in Hendry County.

“Yes. I assure you that is already part of the district, you know, just moving kids toward those career and technical endeavors, and exactly looking into what it is that Airglades is going to offer and then starting the process of what we need to do to be ready for that type of work, that field as well,” the new principal said.

“You know, the CTE programs are always developing. In CTE right now, we do have ag, and we also have the business part — kids are getting certified in Microsoft Office and things like that. CTE is, you know, a work in progress, but we’re going to have a new administrator also there in the district office and he is looking into all the programs that we could offer here at the high school.”

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