After four years at OCPS’s district office, Monica Emery has returned to Gotha Middle School as principal.
Monica Emery is ready for her first full year as principal at Gotha Middle School.
She was appointed to Gotha during the second half of the 2017-18 school year, right before state testing began. The school year ended strong, she said. Teachers and staff were encouraged by Gotha’s report card, Orange County Public Schools’ new system of rating schools.
She’s hoping to maintain that positive atmosphere this year.
“The morale went up, and we’re having a good time,” Emery said.
She hopes the community won’t dwell on the recent state-issued C grade — Gotha’s grade was an A for 20 years and a B last year — but will concentrate, instead, on all the good things happening at the school.
“We’re going to build a morale where everyone wants to be here teaching and learning,” Emery said. “We’ve got high hopes for 2018-19.”
What sets Gotha Middle apart from other schools is its rich arts program, she said. Students can take classes such as drama, keyboarding, guitar, orchestra, band and jazz band, art and digital photography.
“Every fine arts course we can have, we have,” she said. “We’ve built it over time based on what the community wants us to have. A lot of the students in the area try to go to Howard Middle, which is a fine-arts magnet, so we try to make sure those kids stay with us.”
Emery has been with OCPS since 2012 and was an Osceola County Public Schools assistant principal before that.
This is actually a return to Gotha Middle for Emery. She was the assistant principal before leaving four years ago to take a position at the OCPS district office as director of secondary curriculum and instruction.
“This year we’re focusing, after safety and security, on standard-based instruction, culturally responsible teaching and learning and building a culture of literacy,” Emery said.
It’s important for the staff to have the tools to deal with all types of students.
“Some kids are going to come (to school), no matter what; they’re focused on their education,” she said. “This is middle school, (and) it’s not a priority for all students. We want them to want to be at school and to be active — culturally responsible. We need to be the ones that make them feel welcome here and (keep them) focused on their own learning.”
When Emery arrived at the school, she decided it needed some positive press so she hired a former Gotha Middle English teacher to handle the school’s public relations. The staff started creating Fun Friday videos, and students could view them on GTV at Gotha on YouTube. They performed a lip-dub video with the whole school, and students and staff were eager to make another one.
At the end of the 2017-18 school year, Emery danced atop the Gotha Middle marquee, lip-syncing to Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” to get the video started. It was filmed around the campus and included many on the staff and a second song, Drake’s “In My Feelings.”
The video concluded with a challenge to Bridgewater Middle School and Principal Andrew Jackson. Other schools in the West Learning Area have been motivated to create a video now, she said.
To watch GMS’s lip-sync challenge video, go to youtube.com/watch?v=MW2KsUjJ_Dc.
“It’s a great school; we have a great community,” Emery said.
She, her husband and their two sons live in Ocoee and are zoned for Gotha Middle.
“In a few years my first-grader is going to be a sixth-grader here and will have some of these teachers and these counselors. I’m trying to build something that is sustainable.”