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Sun Times Feature Story

Serious Upgrade In Education

• Once viewed as having a poor school district, Hallandale Beach is now among the best in Broward County

By Larry Blustein

   There was a time - not so long ago - when Hallandale Beach was not viewed as one of the best school districts around.

  The reality that many wanted to close Hallandale High School was at the point where one vote would have been the end of a facility that never gained momentum from the community or the students who failed to achieve passing grades.

   At a time when there were other options for residents of the area to explore, the future of the schools in Hallandale didn't seem bright at all. But well over a decade ago, things began to change - and while it took many sacrifices along the way - the light at the end of the tunnel started to become brighter.

   At the center of the change was Sharon Ludwig, who took over the first line of the educational process in the district. What Ludwig did as principal at Hallandale Elementary School was to make changes - and while she said all along that things would come very slowly - her goal was to ensure that her students would move on to the next level more prepared than ever before.

  What Ludwig did was institute year round school. While the idea at first was met with criticism by many parents and students, she was quick to point out that if changes weren't made, the entire school feeder program would never make it.

  Ludwig's "tough love" approach was also accepted by the administration and teachers - and most importantly embraced by the City of Hallandale Beach, which promised to get involved. Long hours and caring to make a difference was mandatory.

   Through the years, Ludwig raised the bar and challenged her students and teachers to make this a school system to be proud of - and by the time she stepped down last year - after pouring her heart into her job and making sacrifices - Ludwig had indeed changed the face of education in a community that was looked down on just a decade ago.

   "I figured that if we were going to make changes, they had to come by the community and the city," she said. "We needed support in changing direction. We wanted to make it fun once again to come to school and learn."

   Ludwig's blueprint for a successful educational feeder program was one that worked. She saw the interest in her many programs start to grow. The students worked harder than ever before to raise the bar - and the parents started to buy into what she was doing.

   Eleanor Garcia sent three children through the Hallandale Elementary School program. She was one of the parents who initially balked when told that the school would go year round, but as she looks back 12 years later - with all of her kids graduated and in college, it was a decision that truly changed the community.

   "I had been one of those young parents who really didn't understand the vision that Mrs. Ludwig had," Garcia recalled. "But as time went on, I saw the difference in the way my children approached school. They were actually anxious to get to school every Monday, and the talk of going to college was something we never heard before."

   Garcia also understood that the process did have a method. One that many didn't comprehend until grades started to go up and the passion for learning started to take hold.

   Nobody embraced that passion more than Brian Kinglsey. Brought aboard over three years ago to take over Gulfstream Middle School, this young an innovative educator bought into Ludwig's philosophy, finally receiving many of her students at his school.

   To fully understand the way this education chain has worked in Hallandale Beach through the years is to see the students leave the elementary school and head off to other middle schools in different cities - never completing what every district strives for - a complete city education.

  "When I first arrived at Gulfstream, there was something I never experienced before," Kinglsey reflected. "The city and the organizations within the community were immersed in the school. That is something that very few school districts have."

   What Kingsley did was embrace what the City of Hallandale Beach was giving to his school. He watched how Gulfstream and Hallandale Beach worked together on events that really involved the students.

   From FCAT testing to food drives, there was a celebration and a reward that went along with the success that was achieved. The Hallandale Beach Police Athletic League got involved. So did Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Bill Julian, who spearheaded so many events that not became a family partnership.

   In addition, businesses such as Memorial Healthcare and the Hepburn Center have been vital in the transformation along the way.

   "You could see on the faces of the students at our school that they were actually looking forward to coming to school and learning," Kinglsey explained. "I have to admit that I never saw anything like it before, and it was something that was setting standards in education throughout the county."

   For the first time ever, students from other cities were trying to come to school in Hallandale, and the spillover began to affect the high school, which was once on the verge of closing with Ds and Fs. 

   Because of his positive efforts at Gulfstream Middle School, Kinglsey was named Middle School Principal of the Year by the Florida Association of School Administrators (FASA) and the Florida Association of Secondary School Principals (FASSP) in 2013.

   He was also recently moved to the main Broward County Public Schools office and appointed Chief Academic Officer. It's a position that he admits he owes to Ludwig and the model she set down to follow during his time at Gulfstream Middle School.

   "I am so excited to have the chance to now spread the word to everyone throughout the county about what was done in Hallandale Beach," Kingsley said. "What we accomplished in that city and at that school was certainly impressive and something that other communities and school districts can follow."

   As he leaves for the exciting new challenge, Kinglsey is proud to know that Gulfstream Middle School, for the first time in it's short history, is an "A" rated school within the State of Florida.

   "I told everyone involved at the school that together they recognized that low expectations can be shattered when you believe in something bigger than yourself and give all of your heart to the life of a child," he explained.  "When it's becoming increasingly more difficult to succeed in schools because standards and expectations are becoming more complex and difficult, our school community not only rose to the occasion, but absolutely soared into the Top 20% of Middle Schools in the entire State of Florida, gaining 134 more academic points within our State's A+ plan than it did one year ago."

   Proudly, Gulfstream Middle School has had the highest increase in Student Achievement in Broward County twice in the last 4 years - (2010-2011 & 2013-2014). When it comes to Reading, Math, Science, Writing and Acceleration Scores, Gulfstream Middle School is one of the BEST schools in the entire State!

    When Ludwig had a vision nearly two decades ago about what could happen if things fell into place, the entire district - from Hallandale Elementary to Gufstream and Hallandale High - are all among the highest in Broward County.

   The new principal, replacing Kinglsey at Gulfstream, was to be announced this week.