Aiming for a positive learning environment: Heather Iannarelli says middle school has exciting changes coming

Learn a little bit about Ormond Beach Middle School's new principal in this Q+A.

Heather Iannarelli said middle schools in Volusia County have exciting changes in the works. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Heather Iannarelli said middle schools in Volusia County have exciting changes in the works. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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When she started her career in education, Heather Iannarelli didn't think she would one day be a principal.

She loved being in the classroom, having worked as a paraprofessional while she was in the college as well. But when she was a teacher at Ormond Beach Middle School, her principal at the time, Carl Persis, saw leadership potential in her, Iannarelli said. It was a scary thought at first — having that responsibility to lead, she said. 

"But I went for it, and I think I was influenced by my leaders who thought I had the qualities of what it would take, and just having the confidence to do it myself," said Iannarelli, who has been in education for over 20 years.

The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with Ormond Beach Middle School's new principal about changes coming to the middle school format, the people who shaped her as a principal and what inspires her. 

What is your favorite thing about being a principal?

The people — Working with the kids, the students and the community, the families. It's looking into seeing how we're building the future and doing everything we can to give the kids the best possible experience in school that they can have, the learning experience. It's a safe space and we try to make sure it's somewhere where it's welcoming and where they're excited to come here.

Going into next school year, what are some of the goals you have in mind for OBMS?

Middle school has got exciting things. Middle school district wide is under redesign.

We're going back to the teaming aspect of it. When they leave elementary and come to middle school, it's a huge change. They're going from one, maybe two teachers to now they've got six periods and every teacher is different, and the personalities are different, and they have different behavior management plans, and different ways of teaching, and it's juts a huge change for the children. So our district level people looked at that and decided, "Hey, maybe we want to consider bringing teaming back." 

This is supposed to bring the fun back to middle school, eventually intramural sports, a lot more one on one working with students. When I say that, it's because we're going to have three teams in sixth grade, for example. These 150 kids will have the same ELA teacher, the same science teacher, the same social studies teacher and the same math teacher. 

So it's making things a little bit more consistent for kids to help the transition be a little more towards secondary [school] while still guiding them. At the same time, those teachers will be able to collaborate with each other. 

There's going to be a lot more communication on student wellbeing, which is great for middle school. 

We're also implementing what's called PBIS, which is Positive Behavior Incentive Systems. That's going to be district-wide in middle school. So it's a chance for us to really celebrate when they're doing something right, and they earn points. That's going to be really cool too. Coupled with the teaming, I think we've got a really bright future in middle school.

Education is still key. That's what we're aiming towards, but if we can get the positivity and the culture for learning in place, education is going to fall right in line. It's going to be so much easier to teach and for kids to learn.

During the pandemic, kids were at home and learning loss was a big concern for parents. How are you hoping to address that at OBMS?

We're on the track to doing that.We're up from where we were, but we're still not where we want to be. So we're a "B" this year, but we want to be a high "B" and then an "A," so we keep shooting towards the top. 

We really want to focus on our instructional practices and there's several different ways we can do that with different strategies and professional development, because it's not just what the students are doing — it's what we're doing too.

Our focus areas are going to be towards our ELA and our students with disabilities, and our behavior too. I think the teaming and the PBIS is going to be a big help with decreasing behavior concerns. That's been a big issue in middle schools nationwide. That middle school age level, there's been a lot of problems nationwide, with respect and knowing how to deal with conflict, and not just between peers and themselves, but when a kid is dealing with something that makes them unhappy, how they react to it. 

Who are some of the people that were really influential in shaping you into the principal you are today?

Of course Carl Persis was very influential in getting my leadership and education off the ground. Matt Krajewski, he was a principal here before, and I was reading coach under him. His leadership style was amazing. He was great with the culture of the school, but then also keeping us goal-driven to keep excelling. 

Jason Watson was an amazing principal that I worked with at Holly Hill. He was so good at making sure that everybody was taken care of but at the same time, we kept going towards a goal — very similar to Matt. 

As a child, who made me want to go into education? I'll never forget Courtney Ronca. She was my fifth grade teacher, and she was one of those teachers that was ahead of her time, like with project-based learning, and just so energetic and loved her job, and you could see that she loved it and loved kids. I strive for every kid to have teachers like that.

What is the biggest lesson that you learned over the course of your career that inspires you every day?

I think the biggest thing is, it's not a solo job. You have to have all of your stakeholders and hear everyone's ideas and their plans and their concerns, because it truly does take a village to raise a child, and we're all influential in that child's life. So we all have to work together and hear each other out. 

What's a message that you'd like to get out to the OBMS family?

I want the school to be a positive atmosphere for all, with education and positive culture at the forefront — that their students are safe, that they know they're coming to a safe campus, because that's on everybody's hearts right now. We're providing a safe place for their students to have a positive learning environment. 


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