The news of the Tommie Barfield Elementary School (TBE) replacement for Principal Karey Stewart hit the airwaves on Friday, May 12 during an afternoon staff meeting. Mrs. Stewart plans to retire in June.
Superintendent Dr. Kamala Patten, Deputy Superintendent David Stump, and Associate
Superintendent Luis Solano were there in person to make the important announcement about the new principal. The standing ovation for Katie Maya was unanimous and accompanied by tears of joy.
“I felt relieved and excited to know that our new principal will carry on the values that have made TBE such a unique school,” said second grade teacher, Sheli Lowrie.
Teacher Diane Jerrett (first grade), stated, “She is part of the TBE family already.”
Mrs. Stewart has been the principal since 2015. Dr. Jory Westberry was the principal for 14 years prior to Mrs. Stewart.
Mrs. Maya has been the Assistant Principal at TBE for six years and is well-qualified to take over the reins of the Arated elementary school.
“I am so excited for the opportunity to continue to support the families and staff at Tommie Barfield. I have learned from two amazing leaders who have established a strong foundation of success and pride. I look to carry on that tradition of excellence,” said Mrs. Maya.
Various students I spoke with said, “I’m happy, we’re lucky. I like Mrs. Maya.” The comments were positive and sincere. One girl said, “My brothers have been mean to me lately so I’m glad Mrs. Maya will be the principal.” Interesting connection!
Facility Manager Dan Dupuis said, “We’re really happy. It’s awesome that she knows the school already and can move right on. She won’t miss a beat.”
I asked Mrs. Maya what she hoped to accomplish in her new role.
“By understanding the diverse needs of our students, we’ll continue to challenge them to reachtheir highest potential. Using data helps us accomplish this. High academic standards are key as teachers will continue to create dynamic, engaging lessons that raise the bar. Our students are also fortunate to have a wide range of opportunities supported by the district, ranging from academic competitions and STEAM initiatives to musical performances.”
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. The creativity in these subjects has opened many opportunities for CCPS students including, geo-caching, robotics, solar car building, electrical circuitry and computer programming; all highly engaging for students K-12.
I asked teachers what they thought about Mrs. Maya’s appointment.
“She is well-respected by the staff and community members. She brings enthusiasm to her job!” – Jill Dizio, ESE Teacher
“Katie knows what makes us “tick,” knows the community, and knows our staff. Katie is a positive problem solver and one of the most organized people I know, but most of all she is compassionate, caring, and holds our staff and kiddos as high priority.” – Mabel Pena, 5th Grade Teacher
“She’s well-rounded and has a heart of gold.” – Arlyn Cueto, ELL Tutor
“Mrs. Maya’s passion for education and the love she has for our students is evident in her daily actions. She is a critical thinker and makes decisions with a ‘students first’ mentality.” –Molly Skudnig, Reading Coach
“People, like Mrs. Maya, who exemplify a calm confidence accomplish more, with less effort, and do so in a serene, courageous and unshakable manner. Through an understanding of this leadership her success will not only strengthen community ties outside of the school but within the walls and throughout the hallways of TBE.” –Sherry Ashley, 5th Grade Teacher
Mrs. Maya understands a wide range of student interests and levels after teaching third grade at Parkside Elementary and teaching high school students at Lely High School.She is proud of the TBE teachers. “We have a strong staff with many veteran teachers. Our biggest asset is that we have so many teachers with individual strengths who are willing to share their expertise with others. We capitalize on strengths focusing around technology, cooperative grouping and differentiated instruction.”
This year Tommie Barfield was a pilot school for an online Spanish program offered to a group of 4th grade students. “We look forward to moving that Spanish program to 5th grade in the upcoming school year. A Cambridge Primary program will also be offered in Grades 3-5th during the next school year, which focuses on the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving, communication and collaboration,” Mrs. Maya told me.
Luckily, TBE doesn’t have the staff turnover challenge that many other schools face. There are two retirements and some relocations she’ll have to plan for, however some teachers or staff members have been at TBE for over 20 years. The student population also stays consistent, which means that no staff members must find jobs in other schools.
Mrs. Maya is from Geneva, Illinois and attended East Carolina University on a volleyball scholarship. She moved to Collier County ten years ago with her husband Eric, who teaches at Gulf Coast High School and is working toward an administrative position. They have two beautiful girls, Ashlyn, 4 and Kaitlyn, 2 who love going to the beach and pool.
She has a long commute to TBE, ranging from 35-60 minutes during season. She says, “It gives me time to think, plan or listen to great books.” Now that’s a positive way to look at commuting.
For me, personally, working with Mrs. Maya was an absolute pleasure for four years. Her enthusiasm, competence and professionalism are a perfect fit for TBE; there could not have been a better choice.