Octavia May began her journey with Polk County Public Schools in 1993 as a paraprofessional. Over the years, she has served as a classroom teacher and an administrator.
For her, education is a calling.
“Education is my ministry, and I enjoy spreading the word about the great things our students and staff achieve,” said May, who is now in her sixth year as principal of Auburndale Central Elementary.
On Tuesday, the Polk County School Board will formally recognize May as PCPS’ 2021 Principal of the Year.
Each Florida school district names its top principal every year as part of the statewide Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership program.
The program “honors principals that have spearheaded initiatives to increase student performance, promote safe learning environments and establish partnerships with parents and community members,” according to the Florida Department of Education.
“I am honored and grateful to be recognized as Polk’s Principal of the Year,” May said. “I am thankful for my parents, who continue to be my role models. My husband and six children are my inspiration.”
Friends and colleagues describe May as a passionate educator with boundless energy and positivity.
“She is a tornado of energy,” said Dr. Ben Henry, PCPS’ regional assistant superintendent who oversees Auburndale Central. “She is all over her campus. She wants to see how classrooms are functioning because she remains a teacher at heart.”
Through the help of May’s efforts, Auburndale Central was able to raise its performance so it was no longer a turnaround school (required to follow a state-mandated improvement plan), Henry said.
She worked to reduce the school’s discipline rate by creating a culture that rewards positive behavior. The school also encourages students to pursue accelerated reading opportunities, as well as challenging lessons in science.
“Most importantly, she built relationships with staff, students, their families and the community,” Henry said. “She has a strong ability to connect with stakeholders and get them to buy into her vision.”
May said she loves coming to work every day because of her staff, who share a dedication and passion for serving students.
“I am in this position today because my Auburndale staff listened to and captured my vision, and believed that together we could be a successful school,” she said.