Michelle Kefford had been teaching biology at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for only a few years when she started dreaming about being a school leader. Nearly 15 years later, she’s returning to be the school’s new principal.
Kefford, 44, has been chosen to lead the school in Parkland, Florida, in the wake of administrative changes following the massacre of 17 people at the school on February 14, 2018.
“I’m excited by the opportunity to go back home. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a lot of ways is going back home, (it) is where I started my career as an educator,” Kefford said.
For the past eight years, Kefford has been leading the Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, about 23 miles south of Parkland. But she’s no stranger to the community. The educator lives in Parkland and her son is a ninth-grader at Stoneman Douglas.
She is considered by many as the top-ranking principal in the state.
Kefford was named Florida’s 2019 principal of the year in March by the state’s board of education and Broward County Public Schools had named her the district’s principal of the year two weeks before the Parkland shooting.
“I think the Stoneman Douglas tragedy impacted all of us, I can speak for my colleagues across the district. It was a horrific tragedy and it really allowed us to focus a little bit more in reevaluate our safety protocols and procedures,” she said.
Some parents are hoping the arrival of a new principal would mark a new beginning for the school.
“I would love to see parents excited to send their kids there because it’s this great place again,” said Bari Wolfman, a parent of two Stoneman Douglas students.
In the past year, students have been attending art therapy sessions, mourned two survivors of the massacre who took their own lives, and learned that three assistant principals and the school principal were under investigation in relation to the shooting.
Wolfman said parents at the Parkland school became much more involved following the shooting and want somebody who can create change, encourage staff to report fights and drugs, and someone who is willing to really get to know the student body.
“I would like to see this principal have a very good handle on realizing what this community went through and that students, parents and teachers are still dealing with it at very different levels,” she said.
Superintendent Robert Runcie announced Kefford’s new role this week, noting that she “works continuously to build an enormous culture of pride with her staff and students.” It’s something the school community is still working to rebuild after the shooting, parents said.
“Given her qualifications and her background, we couldn’t be more lucky to recommend someone so qualified,” he said.
The announcement comes just days after the school’s principal, Ty Thompson, announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the school year, citing the toll of the job on his health and family. Runcie said Thompson has requested a different role within the district that is yet to be determined.
Kefford will take on her new role on July 1.