Lake County educator named Florida’s top principal for improving Umatilla High

Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | April 20, 2023

The top administrator at Umatilla High School in Lake County, who turned in a “stellar” performance his first year on the job, has been named Florida’s principal of the year.

Brent Frazier, tapped for principal’s job less than two years ago, was credited with improving student academic performance at the long-struggling school, boosting course offerings and, according to his supervisor, pulling together “a team of people to do what is best for students, even when members of the team don’t always agree.”

Frazier helped Umatilla High earn a B grade last year on the state’s school report card, following a string of Cs and what would have been a D in 2021, a year when school grades were optional because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He learned of the award at a meeting in Tallahassee on Wednesday, and his school surprised him with cake and a celebratory pep rally in the school courtyard Thursday.

“I was completely shocked,” Frazier said in a phone interview. “It’s a great honor.”

And an honor that needs to be shared, he added. “This is an award for the entire community,” he said. “It’s a testament to a lot of great people doing a lot of great things.”

Umatilla High is a “small school in the north end of Lake County,” with about 850 students enrolled, and probably no one expected it would win statewide honors, Frazier said. But the school has embraced its motto of “Dream It, and Believe It, then you can Achieve It!” he said.

Superintendent Diane Kornegay called Frazier an “outstanding candidate” for the award after a “stellar first year as a high school principal,” which followed three successful years at Umatilla Middle School, according to the letter of recommendation she sent the state.

Kornegay traveled to Tallahassee with Frazier for Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting. He knew he was a finalist for the statewide award and was told the board would honor those three principals. He was stunned when Commissioner Manny Diaz announced he was the winner, with Diaz saying Umatilla’s principal had a “talent for achieving turnaround success.”

Frazier took over a Umatilla High where many students struggled to make progress in key language arts and math classes, and the lowest-performing students didn’t seem to be getting the extra attention they needed, he said in his nomination letter for the award. Teacher turnover was high and morale was low.

The new principal, however, was determined to turn things around. “I believe that our passion and purpose is to provide the very best opportunities for each student,” he wrote.

Frazier enhanced academic offerings so students had more options for advanced classes and more career and technical courses available to them. He also created time in the day for those struggling to get extra help.

“A school that was lingering at the bottom of our district, UHS was home to teachers and students that seemed to feel as if they belonged there at the bottom,” wrote teacher Don Dickson in a recommendation letter for Frazier. “That all changed instantaneously with his arrival.”

Dickson worked for Frazier at Umatilla Middle School and then followed him to the high school where he said the principal quickly made needed changes.

“Not change for the sake of change or to erase the decisions and memories of past leaders, but changes that are necessary to bring student success — changes that others are afraid to make because they might buck the status quo,” Dickson wrote.

Frazier hired 25 new teachers and other staff but also pushed top-notch veterans already on staff to help their peers. “The results were outstanding,” with Umatilla students making strong gains on language arts and math tests, he noted.

Robert Feltner, regional executive director for Lake County Schools and Frazier’s boss, said Frazier has “a unique ability” to unite his staff and is deeply committed to education.

“He has an incredible amount of knowledge about teaching and learning and always keeps what is best for students in the forefront,” he wrote. Thanks to Frazier’s “tireless work,” he added, “Umatilla High School is a place where everyone in the community feels welcome and a part of the education process.”

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