letter to the editor


June 19, 2019


On June 30, Cathy Hoffman will be retiring from the Monroe County School District as the Principal and Executive Director of the neighborhood charter school on Big Pine Key known since 2007 as the Big Pine Academy. She will be moving to Dublin, Ohio at the end of the school year with her husband, Roger, to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law and their two grandchildren as well as her daughter. The Hoffmans hope to be spending the winter months back at their home in the Lower Keys.  Cathy is a graduate of the University of Dayton with 43 years education experience in the Van Wert Ohio School District as a special education teacher and the school district superintendent.  She guided the Big Pine Academy with high student achievement for twelve years and will be solely missed by the Lower Keys community.

The neighborhood school was founded in 2002 with only 25 students by Hazel Hartman and Duncan Mathewson with assistance from Andy Tobin and Peter Rosoco together with a bunch of very committed parents and educational advocates.  This “Little School that Could” has literally and figuratively weathered the many storms to become a shining star academically in the Monroe County School System since its inception.  During the early years when Hazel Hartman became the school principal, it led the way as an A-rated school with an innovative community-based K-8 curriculum having a peek enrollment of about 130 students.  In 2017-2018, the Florida Department of Education School of Excellence placed the school ranking in the top 80% in Florida with a 93% score in the state mandated test.  All of the school teachers have been evaluated as “Highly Effective” for the past three years.

The school took a major hit from Hurricane “Irma” losing over 60% of the physical faculty and over 25% of its student population as many families moved out of the Keys. After the hurricane, the local Big Pine community and students’ parents came together and worked hard as volunteers to keep the school from having to close its doors.  Presently, the school has a projected enrollment of 100 students in the pre K-5 grades with a full-time faculty and staff at 22 for the next school year. Local support from nonprofit organizations in the Keys and from the mainland have been a terrific help in assuring that a first class educational program is maintained.  The Big Pine Academy school board and the faculty are particularly thankful for the generosity of the NBA Miami Heat organization in Miami for building a first class outdoor basketball court on the recreation field for both school students and community youth groups.  The future of this neighborhood school bodes well as the new principal, Sarah Williams, takes over at the end of this school year.  Sarah brings valuable education experience to her new leadership position as a former elementary school teacher on Native American reservations and three years teaching 5th grade at the Big Pine Academy.  The future of the school has never look brighter as Sarah Williams is fully committed to increasing student success while continuing to rebuild the campus from the hurricane damage.

R. Duncan Mathewson III
Little Torch Key

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