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Naples High, Poinciana Elementary leaders named principal, assistant principal of the year

Rachel Fradette
Naples Daily News

Darren Burkett of Naples High School has been named Collier County's principal of the year.

Burkett rose to the helm of the high school in 2017 after spending four years as principal at East Naples Middle School.

Naples High School Principal Darren Burkett has been named Collier County's principal of the year.

Besides honoring Burkett, Collier's school district also named Amity Wyss as its assistant principal of the year.

The district submits both educators to Florida's Department of Education as nominees for the statewide honors. 

More:With empty schools and scattered school communities, Collier principals are supporting from afar

Since Burkett, 48, joined Collier schools in 2009 the Massachusetts native has worked his way up to lead the Golden Eagles at Naples High. 

It's an honor to be recognized, Burkett said.

Naples High School Principal Darren Burkett

"But like so many things in life, it's a result of the work of many people," Burkett said. "And I am fortunate to work at a great school with fantastic people."

Early on in the pandemic, Burkett began to see how his students and staff would need even more support for him, so he decided to take online courses.

From crisis management to principles of life coaching courses, Burkett wanted to be prepared for all his school community needed. 

"We often say how anything can be accomplished through hard work and commitment," Burkett said. "This year is a true testament to that. It's a practical application of that philosophical belief."

Burkett said he believes his students are resilient despite so many challenges, especially this year. 

"There are many challenges for our young people today in a regular situation in a normal teenage environment," Burkett said. "Add the pandemic on top of it, and it's created a lot of obstacles, even greater obstacles." 

In her letter of recommendation for Burkett, Superintendent Kamela Patton wrote that Burkett raised expectations for student growth by investing in the growth of his staff.

Being a Golden Eagle means recognizing the legacy of Collier's oldest high school, Burkett said. 

"I feel as though I'm part of something special," Burkett said. "And it's special, not because of any one thing, but the cumulative effect of everyone's efforts over a number of years."

Assistant principal of the year

Amity Wyss took on education's ever-changing landscape due to the pandemic while helping her school's principal, Jessica Davis, as she sought treatment for breast cancer.

For those reasons and more, Patton shared her endorsement of Wyss in a letter of recommendation for the honor.

"Amity is a positive, engaged and focused school leader," Patton wrote. 

Wyss, 32, said she's appreciative of her colleagues and the district for supporting her.

"It feels kind of silly because I'm just doing my job," Wyss said. "This is the job that I love and I get to do it every day, and that in and of itself is so exciting." 

Poinciana Elementary School assistant principal Amity Wyss

Wyss is in her fifth year as assistant principal at the school. Before starting at Poinciana Elementary, Wyss worked as a science teacher at Manatee Middle School.

More:'I can't stop living.' Collier principal fights for her life, builds bonds amid cancer treatment

As for her strong relationship with Davis, Wyss said they reiterated their motto that students come first.

"I knew instantly that the most important thing for her (Davis) to be able to focus on her own wellness would be to know that the students are taken care of because if she felt like for a moment that the students weren't going to be OK then the focus would not be on her getting better. It would have been on getting everything better for the kids," Wyss said. 

Wyss said she coped with taking on so much at once by leaning on their team at Poinciana.

"At no point was it just me doing it," Wyss said.

Wyss was also named a Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction by Champions For Learning in 2017. 

Originally from New Jersey, Wyss came to Naples in elementary school and attended Collier County public Schools. 

More:Collier County's Teachers of Distinction told of the honor during surprise visits

Wyss is working on her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Florida State University. She anticipates its completion this spring.

Back at school, Wyss said leaders are trying to hold onto as much of the good things as they can, like sending home postcards and presenting certificates in class.

"Poinciana is one of those places where we want you to feel at home," Wyss said.

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.

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