Q&A with Boca’s principal of the year nominee

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If you ask Rachel Capitano what it means to be named a school district principal of the year nominee, she doesn’t hesitate.

“I opened this school with Debra Johnson in 2004. So, to be able to come back as principal with relationships in place is one of the greatest blessings,” Capitano said about Don Estridge High Tech Middle School.

If the name sounds familiar, Capitano was Del Prado Elementary School’s principal before assuming this post in 2017. Her husband Edmund Capitano is principal at West Boca High School.

The School District of Palm Beach County announced four nominees for the 2021 Principal of the Year. Capitano represents the south region. The winner will be announced in January and submitted to the state’s Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership.

Q: How are you doing in this different way to educate children? Are most kids still doing distance learning there?

A: Normally we have 1,280 students. Now we’re at 1,277 and have 511 brick and mortar, around 40%. We may not hit that every day, but that’s how many completed the survey. We want to have more kids back in school. We identify students struggling in distance learning to bring them back or help them. We don’t want this to take a toll on student success.

Q: How is your faculty doing? You said you only had two teachers retire and one was about to do that anyway.

A: Some teachers are working remotely from home. And the gym is our overflow for virtual learning labs. We have students in there 6 feet apart. When we opened Sept. 21,  I had five teachers remotely and now some are paraprofessionals.

Q: You’re a choice school with a technology academy. What makes you more high-tech than other middle schools?

Q: We instituted a full robotics program, beginner, intermediate and advanced. We have a business ed tech program and industry certification courses. Our electives are geared toward student interest in technology, like creative design and photo shop. The teachers took it upon themselves to get certification in Google and we were already operating one to one. Teachers’ skill sets and elective choices is what separates us.

Q: Talk about how diverse your school is.

A: The diversity is my favorite thing here. We have 60 feeder elementary schools, so we’re pulling from all over the county. We mirror the school district.

Q: How many kids have applied for your choice school?

A: Since Nov. 2, 418 already applied. Our incoming class is 436. We did tours two days a week so we can’t do that. The district did an online tour and we participated.

Q: What is “How to train your dragon to return to school?” on your website?

A: Every year, for our sixth graders and new seventh and eighth graders pre-pandemic, we did a scavenger hunt to learn important locations. This year we made two versions; one on distance learning and we videotaped locations and what the school looks like so they can have a visual.

Q: What would it mean to you to be Palm Beach County School District’s principal of the year?

A: With all the change educators have been through this year, I know how hard my colleagues have been working. The fact that I’ve been nominated with Don Estridge as my home is the most special. When my staff congratulated me, I told them this is like being principal of the year every day.

By Marci Shatzman

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