The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board met Monday, Sept. 17 and viewed a trio of presentations from Royal Palm Beach High School, the School District of Palm Beach County and the Watch DOGS program.
Councilman Jeff Hmara — who serves as the council’s liaison to the board — spoke highly of the newly reconstituted board, comprised of three professional educators and three parents.
Chair Dr. Bill Thallemer is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame who received a master’s degree and a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Mississippi. He has more than 20 years of education experience and is currently an executive consultant for TalentQuest.
Vice Chair Krystal Clark brings experience from a major urban school district having served six years on the North Chicago CUSD Board of Education with two years as president. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and is a mother of three and a grandmother of seven.
“Bill Thallemer has a doctorate in education leadership,” Hmara said. “We couldn’t have chosen someone better as chair. I have been involved with the board for four or five years. I’ve learned some really good things, and we have attracted really good people.”
The first to speak was Dr. Jesus Armas, who has been the principal at Royal Palm Beach High School since 2010. He gave a lengthy presentation filled with statistics touting how the school has improved in several key areas during his tenure.
“We need to meet the holistic needs of children,” Armas said. “They come as 14-year-old children and leave as 18-year-old young adults.”
One statistic that stood out was the increase in RPBHS students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. In 2010, 51 percent of the 2,062 students at RPBHS received the free or reduced-price lunch, but by 2018, 80.4 percent of the 2,309 students at RPBHS were recipients. Armas noted that this was the largest increase in the school district.
Armas next focused on security — particularly in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. RPBHS has two police officers on site, along with a police aide at the entrance. In addition, the school employs seven security personnel and has an 18-member crisis response team.
The connection between RPBHS and its alumni network was stressed by Armas. He explained that 21 members of his staff are alumni and 22 have a relative currently enrolled at the school.
Between 2010 and 2017, the number of student disciplinary referrals dropped by a factor of six. In 2010, 1,892 students received a referral, whereas only 320 received a referral in 2017.
Armas went on to cite the increased number of middle schoolers in the community applying to the RPBHS choice academies. That number was only 69 in 2011, but it grew to 270 for 2017.
“That’s a number we’re happy with,” Armas said. “Our academies are filling up.”
Among the academies at RPBHS are HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) — which is one of the longest on-going programs in the school district — as well as medical sciences, business marketing, STEM and the Navy JROTC.
Among the academic programs at RPBHS are International Baccalaureate (IB), AICE from the University of Cambridge, AP courses and AVID. AVID is designed for students who will be the first members of their family to attend college. Armas noted that there are more than 250 AVID students at RPBHS, which make them one of the largest groups in the school district.
Thallemer was impressed by the school’s new IB program. Armas was pleased that students in the western communities no longer had to make the lengthy commute to Riviera Beach to participate in an IB program.
“We always wanted an IB program,” Thallemer said. “It’s the right thing for our community. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
The most impressive statistic of the RPBHS presentation was the graduation rate. Starting in 2015, each year saw a new record percentage of graduating seniors. In 2011, some 70.9 percent of seniors graduated from RPBHS. By 2015, that number had grown to 82.8 percent, and it is predicted that number will be 91.1 percent for 2018.
“That’s an impressive number,” Thallemer said.
If there was one thing Armas could change, it would be to have more parents engaging with the school.
“Parent participation is lagging. I’d like to say we’re doing a really good job there — we’re not,” Armas said, noting that his own son is a student at RPBHS.
The next to speak was Amity Schuyler, chief of staff to Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy. She was there to talk about the November ballot initiative to authorize a 1 mill levy to allow the school district to support higher teacher pay, better school security, and additional arts and music funding.
“We will be short $50 million in two years if this doesn’t pass,” Schuyler informed the board. “The half penny we receive from the [sales tax] is for infrastructure only — not personnel.”
Learn more about the referendum at www.strongschoolspbc.com.
The final presentation was by Thallemer to his own board on the topic of the Watch DOGS program he leads in the community. DOGS stands for Dads of Great Students. He said that the organization’s goals were to promote a positive and supportive school environment. He also spoke about the DAD program, which stands for Dare, Appreciate and Donate.
The organization works closely with schools to provide volunteers to assist wherever possible. It could be organizing books in the library or preventing bullying in the locker room. Each of the volunteers is given a background screening and is approved by the school district. Thallemer said the goal is have male role models to encourage positive activities while protecting the kids from roughhousing and bullying.
In addition to Thallemer, Board Member Dwayne St. Hill is involved in the Watch DOGS organization.
The meeting concluded with board members documenting their experience visiting schools throughout the Royal Palm Beach area.
“Life is going by way too fast,” Thallemer said. “If you’ve never seen a grade school or middle school lunch, you’re missing life.”
The next meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board will be on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Village Meeting Hall.