Ocoee Middle principal wins national award

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  • | 7:37 p.m. June 5, 2014
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Ocoee Middle School Principal Dr. Mark Shanoff was named the 2014 National Distinguished Principal for Florida and will be recognized for his achievements Oct. 16-17 in Washington, D.C., at the 2014 National Distinguished Principal event. Shanoff has set high standards for instruction and student achievement throughout his career, which has earned him this national recognition.

Shanoff said he strongly believes in the importance of student learning and student experience. He has created an atmosphere at Ocoee Middle where teachers and administrators work hard to give students the necessary tools for achievement, but the ultimate decision of what to do with the knowledge learned is left up to each individual. Every student has a different path for success, and Shanoff wants to provide the opportunity to explore that by offering the best education possible.

“I’ve always viewed education as the great equalizer in our society, that students can change their lot in life through education and through educational opportunities,” said Shanoff. “What I need to do is create those opportunities for them so then they can go ahead and maximize their potential, whether that’s through further study in college or going directly into the workforce or joining the military. Whatever that is that they believe will allow them to maximize their potential, I want them to have that choice.”

Shanoff sets very high standards for both the students at Ocoee Middle and the instructors, but he also allows for the necessary time and attention required to help everyone reach their goals. He holds the ideal that teachers need ample time to plan and coordinate student lessons together, that way meaningful assessments and experiences can be created. If teachers work hard for the students, Shanoff has no doubt that exceptional learning will take place.

“For me, student mastery is of paramount importance, and I think the only way you get to student mastery is by setting the vision of high expectations,” Shanoff said.

Before coming to Ocoee Middle, Shanoff was the principal of Dillard Street Elementary in Winter Garden for five years. It was there where he discovered how necessary it is for teachers to be fully involved in decision making and new ideas.

”I was able to really experience the power of putting a lot of those decisions and ownership back in the hands of teachers, and then watching their creativity and their skills and their talents flourish,” Shanoff said.

Shanoff has been the principal of Ocoee Middle School for one year and has worked to carry over those same ideals he instilled at Dillard.

“I think that it’s been embraced by the teachers here, because they’ve been given that opportunity to work together,” said Shanoff.

When he began his career at Ocoee Middle School, it was Shanoff’s first time back on a middle school campus since he finished eighth grade as a student himself. Because of his background in elementary education, it proved to be a challenging adjustment, but he soon found the great reward in preparing students for high school, college and career success.

Shanoff has spent his entire principal career in West Orange County and believes the amount of community involvement and support has greatly contributed to school achievement. He has witnessed so much of the community become invested in the local schools, including civic leaders, Ocoee Mayor Scott Vandergrift, city managers, the police force and fire department and more.

“I just really have a passion for this area,” said Shanoff. “I really do feel like West Orange County is a place where the community embraces the schools. The cities want to be involved with their local schools and so they make themselves available; they support us, and that partnership is so valuable.”

Shanoff finds his reward when he watches his students walk the graduation stage four years after leaving middle school. He takes great pride in seeing them graduate not only from high school, but also as graduates of the Orange County district.

“This school district represents, I believe, a level of education that sets us apart from others,” Shanoff said. “As educators in Orange County public schools, no matter if you’re elementary, middle school or high school, you have to continue to strive to deliver the best possible educational experience.”

All principals nominated for the National Distinguished Principal award are part of the National Association of Elementary Principals, which has grown to include both elementary and middle school leaders, and must be suggested by a colleague. Each principal in the running submitted answers regarding their philosophy of education and letters of recommendation from an administrator, teacher and community member, as well as a list of major accomplishments and educational background information. Shanoff was chosen to represent Florida above all the rest.

To be considered for the award, student success must be evident. It is up to the principal to develop creative learning techniques and provide opportunities for each student, while also getting the community and parents involved for much needed support. Shanoff believes that every student can be successful, if only given the means and encouragement to do so. That is something he strives to give his students each day at Ocoee Middle School.