Julissa Piña with Victoria Frank Leal and Margherita Giandolfi Vannini

K-8 Center Principal Julissa Piña with Victoria Frank Leal and Margherita Giandolfi Vannini poses during welcoming reception on September 7, 2022

It's official. Key Biscayne K-8 Center new principal, Julissa Piña, has arrived as more than 50 Village leaders, educators, parents and residents rolled out the welcome mat during a welcoming event last week at the Village Hall Turtle Fountain.

Piña said she's very happy to be at the K-8 Center – and to be a part of the community.

"I'm humbled and grateful that I'm sharing this event with my administration team, the assistant principals," said Piña, who previously served as principal at Coconut Grove Elementary and Rockway Elementary schools. "I'm happy to bring them here with me."

Piña replaced Michelle Coto, who was reassigned in June to be principal at Shenandoah Middle School. Coto’s tenure at the K-8 Center was tumultuous as parents complained about her communication style and stance with regards to parent volunteers.

Attendees at last week’s event mingled and talked for over an hour before outgoing Village Mayor Mike Davey introduced Pina by acknowledging the job she has already done since school opened last month.

"We're excited she's here," said Davey, whose wife Maria Claudia Thorne was formally a teacher at the school. "She's been phenomenal and brings a lot of energy that's positive for the school. We are thrilled she is here."

Thorne echoed Davey’s sentiment. "She is part of our big family."

For her part, Piña was modest, declining to be recognized as the honoree, choosing instead to direct praise to her staff for the strong start to the school year.

Piña oversees a student population of 915, with about 75 teachers. The school, however, is dealing with under enrollment and a teacher shortage due partly to retirements.

"They are the only challenges I see," she said. "With teachers' retirements, we're hoping the hiring process goes well."

The students were eager to return to a sense of normalcy after two plus years of COVID pandemic interruptions, Piña said:

"This is the first year without students wearing masks and everyone is back in the classrooms. The students were welcomed by teachers and staff and the school police. It was wonderful to see that. We have a lovely staff."

Piña’s goals for the year include creating a network for students to write stories for the Islander as part of the #kbminijournalist program and reestablishing the school’s Green Garden initiative. Piña said her relationship with the PTA also is off to a good start.

Luis Bonachea, K-8 Center assistant principal, said their new leader is already positively impacting the school and the community.

"We are seeing changes like more open communications in the community and with parents,” she said. “As an assistant principal, it's great working with her because we share a common goal. She's making the school more positive and a more welcome environment."

Dr. Liane Frank, attending the welcoming event and whose three grandchildren are K-8 students, said Piña's presence lights up the village. "She's the right person in the right place."


Recommended for you