County school officials reassigned K-8 Principal Michelle Coto last week in the wake of parent anger that led to unprecedented meetings over her administration of the island’s lone public school.
The move is listed on the agenda for the Miami-Dade School Board’s June 22 meeting as a recommendation that Coto be assigned to be principal at Shenandoah Middle School.
Coto said Sunday she is looking forward to the move and expressed appreciation for her time leading the Key Biscayne K-8, which serves about 930 students.
“I’m very happy that I had a chance to serve the community and the students,” she said. “I feel that the students love me. I think that regarding the students, everything is positive.” Coto said she is looking forward to her new assignment.
Mari Tere Rojas, the school board member representing Key Biscayne, said personnel moves are reviewed by the board but that decisions are usually treated with deference to the school administration.
Still, the attention paid to Coto’s administration of the K-8 was atypical. Rojas and top district school officials went to well-attended meetings of parents and teachers who complained loudly about lack of communication and follow-through. The Village Council even called a government-led community forum meeting in April.
At the time, school officials said the K-8’s performance indicators such as test scores were good and the regional superintendent, Dr. Michael Lewis, said he had full confidence in her leadership.
“We got involved because we had some concerns hearing from parents,” said Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey. “The K-8 is our school. It’s one of the focal points of our community.”
Jackie Kellogg, who is a regional PTA coordinator and is familiar with parent-teacher tensions district wide, said that Coto was caught in a “perfect storm” of frustration caused by the pandemic, safety rules, and a culture of demanding parents whose expectations were shaped by previous principals who lived on the island.
“I talked to parents,” said Kellogg. “Can we cut her some slack?” describing her interactions at the school. “And the answer was no.”
Kellogg said many parents in Key Biscayne had been used to walking into the school straight to students’ classrooms. But that ended after school shootings at Sandy Hook and Parkland, and was made even more restrictive during the height of COVID-19 protocols.
“What is unique to our community is that we bring in our local government to get answers,” she said. “I think that, in a way, is good. It’s another level of mediation.”
Nicholas Cardoso, the outgoing K-8 PTA president, agreed that Coto had significant challenges but also failed to accept offers of support or adapt to what the school community expected.
“Her vision for how a school should operate does not fundamentally align with the community’s expectations and there was no attempt made by her to reconcile that difference,” he said.
A message left for the union representing Coto, the Dade Association of School Administrators, was not returned.