Jesús Armas Named Palm Beach County 2020 Principal Of The Year

Dr. Jesús Armas with his Principal of the Year award.

Dr. Jesús Armas, principal of Royal Palm Beach High School, has been named the 2020 Principal of the Year for the School District of Palm Beach County. The announcement was made Tuesday, Jan. 28 during a celebration held at FPL’s Manatee Lagoon. The event was organized by the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County in conjunction with the school district.

“I am incredibly grateful and honored. I am standing here because of all of the great work that so many people have been doing at Royal Palm Beach High School,” Armas said.

Armas went on to thank his wife of 40 years, his son and his parents, who immigrated from Cuba in 1961.

When Armas assumed leadership of the school in 2010, it had a D rating and a poor community perception as being unsafe. The school also experienced high staff turnover. Armas said his first order of business was creating a vision for the school in collaboration with the staff, students and stakeholders to meet the holistic needs of all students.

Armas immediately put a premium on focusing on security issues, including modifying safety protocols and working with student leaders to foster respectful relationships. Along with other changes in school culture and safety, the number of students receiving referrals to the office decreased from 40 percent to 14 percent.

The school’s culture shift under Armas yielded additional positive results, with Royal Palm Beach High School earning one of the highest scores in the School Effectiveness Questionnaire that quantifies how staff and faculty are valued and treated on campus. Employee turnover has declined noticeably, and RPBHS was recently named the “Happiest High School” in the district.

A happy school is primed for success, and under Armas’ leadership, RPBHS has seen its number of academies and rigorous coursework expand to include a Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) academy, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), computer gaming, International Baccalaureate (IB) and Navy JROTC.

The enhanced curriculum also includes a push from faculty to provide more accelerated courses to all students, with 75 percent of graduates taking accelerated coursework. That push has also led to a dramatic increase in the school’s graduation rate, from 70.9 to 92.9 percent during Armas’ tenure. The school is also now B-rated.

Armas was one of four finalists. Other nominees for the honor include Reggie Myers from Park Vista High School, Michelle Fleming from Lake Park Elementary School and Pamela Buckman from Pioneer Park Elementary School.

“Given the amount of talent we have in this district, it is a true honor to be nominated for Principal of the Year,” Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II said. “We are grateful for your passion and your dedication to our students.”

The impressive backgrounds of the four finalists were selected by the district’s four regional offices.

“We celebrate leadership. And I think our winner tonight, and in fact all of our nominees, illustrate the very heights of committed, servant leadership,” Education Foundation President & CEO James S. Gavrilos said. “The effect they have on the schools they serve and the students they teach is nothing short of spectacular.”

All four finalists received a prize package donated by the local business community. As the winner, Armas is now eligible for the Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership by the Florida Department of Education. The winner of the state award will be announced later this year.