She is Broward County Principal of the year for 2013-2014, but Camille Pontillo has no intentions of resting on her laurels.
"It was awesome to be honored, but you hit the ground running the next day as you did the day before," said Pontillo, Sunrise resident and principal at Coral Park Elementary in Coral Springs since 2011. "I've moved on. All I am thinking now is about the new school year."
Pontillo, who was selected by a jury from among four finalists, wasn't expecting the award.
"I was totally humbled and honored," she said. "I don't know what the selection process was. Someone nominated me, and when I went in for the interview, I thought I would answer from my heart. I truly love what I do; you don't do what you love thinking about an award."
There is much to like about being a principal, said Pontillo. "Every day is a new day; you deal with so many different people and issues. That is the kind of challenge I enjoy. There is always something new to learn. That is what keeps my spirit going."
Coral Park is Pontillo's third school as principal, after Park Springs Elementary in Coral Springs and Tedder Elementary in Pompano Beach. "No matter what school you go to, you got to assess its needs and strengths. You then focus on the strengths and build on those. The goal is to create a learning environment where students feel safe to take learning risks and staff continues to grow as educators."
Pontillo, who owned a preschool before joining the school district, enjoys working with children. "It has always been my passion," she said. "No matter what age I was, I always had children around me. After high school, I started taking business classes, but I soon realized I needed to be with children. When you work with elementary school kids, you can actually see learning happen."
It is teamwork that ultimately decides the success or failure of a school, said Pontillo. "I believe principals make a difference, but it is about the whole school community working together as a team to create the right environment. The principal is a catalyst to facilitate the needed interactions. "
For Sheri Maini, fifth-grade teacher at Coral Park, Pontillo is inspirational.
"She has been my mentor for 5 to 6 years now. As a result of her leadership, I am graduating from "Propel," an assistant principal certificate program. She uses her voice to speak for all the schools in the county. She truly deserves the award."
Greg Offutt isn't surprised in the least that his wife brought home the coveted award. "She is one of the smartest, loving and intelligent persons I've ever met," he said. "She works exceptionally hard and doesn't look for recognition. She is a multitasker and does them all very well. After she won the award, I heard some of her colleagues say 'finally, they got it right.'"
The biggest challenge for principals is the mandates that have come from the state, the Sunrise resident said.
"In just three years, the teaching standards have changed twice. The resources that teachers have to use have changed. So has the teacher evaluation system. We have had budget cuts. The grading system of schools has changed, as well.
"We have had budget cuts, but I don't think that is holding schools back," said Pontillo.
"As educators, we are very creative in our mindset. We find a way to get it done. Our school has great community partners, such as Park's Tae Kwon Do. The PTA has been great, too. Whatever we need, they make it happen."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun