By Joshua Manning
Longtime Palm Beach County educator Michelle Fleming has been named the new principal at Royal Palm Beach High School, replacing Dr. Jesús Armas, who was transferred to John I. Leonard High School last month.
Fleming told the Town-Crier that she is looking forward to her new job and was excited to be able to apply for the position.
“Being a high school principal has been my goal since I started working at a high school in 2007,” she said. “I knew my skillset, being at Palm Beach Gardens High School for nine years, would make me a quality match for Royal Palm Beach High School.”
Fleming has been working in the Palm Beach County School District her entire career. She grew up in western Massachusetts and arrived in South Florida to attend Florida Atlantic University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She later earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.
Fleming joined the school district as an intern in 2001 and became a full-time staff member in 2002. Starting out in the classroom, she worked as a teacher at Palm Springs and L.C. Swain middle schools. In 2007, she became assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Palm Beach Gardens High School, staying there until 2016. That is when she was tapped for her first principal post at Lake Park Elementary School.
“My entire career has been dedicated to Title I schools and improving academic outcomes for students at Title I schools,” Fleming said. “Having a principal experience at the elementary school, coming from a large Title I high school, it made the transition to becoming a principal easier. Being the principal of a high school is definitely new, but the nine years I had as an assistant principal at a large high school definitely prepared me for this position.”
When Armas won the district’s principal of the year award in 2020, Fleming was a finalist for the award due to her work at Lake Park Elementary School.
“When I first started there, it was a D school and became a C school,” she recalled. “In two years’ time, I was able to get Lake Park off the state’s list of the lowest performing 300 schools. We also achieved a state grade of an A. That year, we also had the highest gains in the district for improvements in our lowest performing students.”
Since February 2020, Fleming has worked at the school district’s headquarters as director of administration and compliance in the Office of School Transformation.
“I’ve had the opportunity to broaden my lens by being involved in many different departments,” she said. “I have been running the superintendent’s executive cabinet, running his meetings and agendas. I vet presentations for the executive cabinet and make sure that agendas and presentations run well.”
She also serves as the state liaison for school transformation. “With that, I do monthly visits to our schools that are low performing,” Fleming explained. “I work with the southeast regional director for the Bureau of School Improvement.”
Fleming was tapped for the job at RPBHS on Thursday, Nov. 11, and was formally approved by the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Her first day at the school was Thursday, Nov. 18. She was able to meet with the school staff during their professional development day on Thursday, Nov. 11.
“The school is impressive,” she said of her visit to RPBHS. “It is a large school. The staff was super welcoming. I was able to meet with the leadership.”
Fleming specifically thanked Assistant Principal Lisa Jones for the work she has been doing over the past month leading RPBHS since Armas was transferred to his new school.
“I really love the fact that I met so many teachers who were alumni, who came back to teach there,” Fleming said. “I think that speaks volumes for the school.”
In his 11 years at the helm, Armas is frequently credited with turning around a school in crisis. Fleming arrives at a school on the upswing, with rising test scores and graduation rates, strong choice academy programs and a newly implemented International Baccalaureate program providing rigorous academic opportunities for high-performing students.
Fleming’s primary goal is to continue to improve academic outcomes for students.
“I enjoy really getting involved in academics and being in classrooms,” she said. “We need to not just remediate, but to accelerate the learning.”
She is honored to be replacing Armas at the school.
“It is a good time to come in. Dr. Armas has left the school in a great place,” she said. “I’m very excited to learn more about the great things that are happening at the school already.”
Fleming noted that she comes from an immigrant background as a first generation Portuguese American.
“Growing up in a culture very similar to a lot of our Hispanic students gives me an understanding of that background,” she said. “My dad was an immigrant, so I understand the immigrant community well.”
Fleming also noted that she comes from an entire family of teachers. Her husband is currently a teacher at Jupiter High School. They live in West Palm Beach and have two children in Palm Beach County schools — a 12-year-old daughter at the Bak Middle School of the Arts and a 10-year-old son at the Conservatory School in North Palm Beach.