It’s not unusual for Lely High School students to stop and chat with the school’s principal in between classes. Then again, its hard not to when he’s out roaming the halls every chance he gets.
However, about a month ago, Ken Fairbanks, the school’s principal, said his students began asking him a peculiar question: “Are you going to be here next year?” His answer is always the same: Until he’s told otherwise, Fairbanks plans to greet a whole new class of Lely High School freshman this fall.
When Fairbanks started in August, he was the fifth principal the school had in several years. While Fairbanks had been a principal in Collier County for several years, when he walked through the school’s doors, it was the first time he had stepped into the role of high school principal.
“(This year) was a whirlwind trip, and once it got started it never stopped,” said Fairbanks. “But I never regretted taking this job. What I always knew was true, students on the eastside of Naples are truly magnificent.”
During his 20-year career in Collier County, Fairbanks served as a teacher and the assistant principal at East Naples Middle School. He also served as principal at Vineyards, Golden Terrace and Big Cypress elementary schools. Prior to coming to Lely, Fairbanks took the helm of East Naples Middle School, when former principal Mike Parrish left to become principal of Lely.
In July, the school district announced that Fairbanks and Parrish would swap positions.
Parrish’s departure wasn’t the first time a principal came and went in a short amount of time. After Roy Terry left in 2003 to become principal of Palmetto Ridge High School, the school went through three principals before Fairbanks took the helm.
First came Jerry Primus, who retired from the district after one turbulent year at Lely, when a number of high-profile, negative incidents took place, including the arrest of students charged with possibly plotting to shoot up the campus.
In July 2004, the district hired Bruce Myers. He resigned April 5, 2005, after he was removed by Baker four days prior and transferred to the central administration office.
Myers was replaced by Sebastian Torres, the former principal at Immokalee High School, until the school year was over, when the district put Parrish in place.
Fairbanks said he’s worked to keep the negative images of Lely out of the minds of his students, faculty and staff.
“When it all comes down to it, when (people) look at Lely High School, they don’t know the kind of accomplishments we’ve made,” he said. “I always felt what we needed to do was celebrate the successes.”
This year the school will graduate the second highest Laureate candidates in the district with 26 candidates scheduled to walk across the stage May 25. While not all of the students are graduating with Laureate diplomas, Fairbanks is quick to point out that his students scored high on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and are excelling in the many career academies the school has to offer.
“Lely High School really, truly is a real world experience,” he said. “Though we have a diverse populations, the students really, truly get along.”
While Fairbanks said a principal’s first year at a new year should focus on observation, visitors to the school can see several changes made to the campus. Throughout the year, the school saw facility updates, like changes in the athletic fields, and Fairbanks said those updates are expected to continue throughout the summer.
“Whatever needed to be done to bring the school up to Collier County standard was done,” he said.
Physical changes won’t be the only difference for incoming students next year, Fairbanks said he also hopes to make some curriculum changes in the coming years.
The school already has several growing career academies, and Fairbanks said he hopes to expand the programs to include a marine biology and teaching academy in the next year. He said he’s also hoping to develop freshmen academies, thus easing the transition from middle school to high school.
Changes in the facility and curriculum may be in the future, but Fairbanks said none of it would be possible without his students.
“They have surpassed anything I would have expected,” he said. “(This school) is one of the best kept secrets in Collier County.”