Agathe Alvarez, center, meets two parents in the front office of Tildenville Elementary last Thursday: Jennifer Walker, left, who brought the new administrator a bouquet of bright flowers, and Andrea George, who was picking up supply lists for her children.
It was just her second day of work last Thursday, but Agathe Alvarez had already met quite a few of the parents at Tildenville Elementary, where she has been assigned as the new principal for the 2014-15 school year. That’s exactly the kind of family atmosphere that drew the educator to the position when it opened up this summer after Dr. Carmen Balgobin was transferred to Mollie Ray Elementary in Orlando.
Her staff has been amazing, she said, supporting their new leader from the beginning. She was touched when she was introduced at a recent Orange County Public School Board meeting and Tildenville teachers and administrators were there with flowers for her.
“The staff has been so welcoming,” she said.
Parents have, too, stopping by the school to introduce themselves to the new principal. She invited them all to a tea she held Tuesday “just to say hi.”
She said: “It’s such a close-knit community. I just feel like I’m going from my home to my second home. It’s a great feeling.”
Alvarez is already familiar with Tildenville’s campus; her youngest child was once a student there. And she’s knows about TES’s Dual Language Enrichment Magnet Program because she lives in Windermere and has heard good things about it.
In Tildenville’s magnet program, all students are immersed in instruction in both English and Spanish daily. Both languages are integrated throughout the school day, giving students the opportunity to practice speaking in both languages. Parents, students and staff sign a contract that shows commitment, as well as a partnership between the school and home.
While Alvarez admits she is not fluent in Spanish, she is able to converse with Spanish-speaking parents. She can, however, speak Creole — she was born in Haiti — and she knows a little French, she said.
She is eager to pick up more of the Spanish language in her daily contact with the dual-language program, she said.
Reading is important to Alvarez, and she wants to ensure there is an emphasis on it. The school excelled with its Accelerated Reading program in past years, and she expects the same with a new reading program called MyOn. She plans to continue a successful component of it: the book-cover jigsaw puzzle. The TES media specialist makes an enlarged copy of a book cover and cuts it into small squares; students can add a piece after completing a reading assignment. The walls of the school’s hallways are filled with puzzles that classes have collaboratively finished.
Alvarez is excited about the new garden, too. Six Winter Garden elementary schools — including Tildenville — were selected by Orlando Health Central to have edible, sustainable learning gardens donated through Orlando Health Foundation’s “Growing Healthy Children” project. Each grade will get its own space in the garden to grow fruits and vegetables, with the idea that students will play a hands-on role in planting the seeds, nurturing the plants and harvesting and eating what’s ripe.
Funding has come from various sources, such as the city of Winter Garden, community organizations, the West Orange Healthcare District and Health Central Hospital, which is a lesson in itself on supporting one’s community.
“You want [the students] to love their community and want to make it better,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of my neighborhood,” Alvarez said. “It’s great to go out and do something awesome at a school,” but it’s even better to change the lives of students in one’s own backyard.
Alvarez started her educational career as a first-grade teacher in the Bronx, N.Y. After two and a half years of classroom teaching, she ran a Head Start program for three years. She and her family moved to Central Florida in 1999, and she taught at Shingle Creek Elementary and became the curriculum resource teacher at Fern Creek Elementary. From 2008-13, she was assistant principal at Catalina Elementary, and last year, she served as assistant principal of Millennia Elementary.
She and her ex-husband, Frank, have successfully co-parented three daughters: one who attends the University of Central Florida, another about to start school in Maine and the oldest, who recently married and is a local teacher.