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Life-Long Buccaneer to Lead School in 2020-2021


MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – Life-long Buccaneer, Denise Santiago, is Horace O’Bryant School’s (HOB) new captain, according to Monroe County School District Superintendent Mark Porter.  Santiago, who is the school’s current Assistant Principal, will serve as the school’s new principal beginning the 2020-2021 school year.


“Mrs. Santiago has devoted her entire career to HOB,” Porter said.  “Her 31 years of experience in a variety of positions within the school, along with her close relationships with the school’s students, parents, and staff, make her the ideal candidate to lead the next generation of HOB learners.”  Porter stated.


To many, Denise Santiago’s name is synonymous with HOB.  She first walked through the school’s doors as Denise Blackwell, an 8th grader making the transition to HOB when it combined with Glynn Archer Junior High School in the early 1980’s.  After graduating with honors from Key West High School in 1984, the fifth generation Conch earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Florida in the fall of 1987, and took a “temporary” job as a substitute at her alma mater.  Little did she know, that the substitute assignment would turn into over three decades of service at the school.  Santiago, who also has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of South Florida, taught English Language Arts and Mathematics at HOB, from 1988-2001.  While in the classroom, Santiago, who was known for her disciplined, but caring approach with her students, earned many accolades, including the prestigious MCSD Assistant Principal, Teacher, and Inclusion Teacher of the Year Awards.  The well-respected educator also served as team leader, Take Stock in Children Site Coordinator, Building-Level Planning Team member, and Testing Coordinator, before being named Assistant Principal in 2001. 


During her tenure as Assistant Principal, Santiago has played an essential role in the implementation of many innovative programs at HOB, including Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Where Everyone Belongs (WEB), MCSD School Threat Assessment Protocol and Youth Mental Health First Aid.  Many of these programs have achieved national recognition under her leadership.  Santiago was instrumental in successfully transitioning the Reynolds Pre-K program, Glynn Archer Elementary, and Horace O’Bryant Middle School staff, students, and parents into what is now known as the Horace O’Bryant School Pre-K-8 School and campus.  While Santiago is well versed in all facets of administration, it is her decisive, honest, team-centered, approach that earns her the respect and admiration of her colleagues, who praise her for cultivating a family-like atmosphere at HOB.


Sixth grade science teacher, Joelle Deroche was thrilled to hear of Mrs. Santiago’s selection.  “Denise Santiago is going to be a fabulous principal at HOB.  She brings with her the experience, professionalism and depth of knowledge of our community,” said Deroche.  “She will be able to continue the Buccaneer traditions and family atmosphere that we have come to know and love.”


Art teacher Katie Holtkamp echoes Deroche’s sentiment.  “Denise Santiago “just gets it”. She has been a consistent source of guidance, support and inspiration during my career as an HOB Buccaneer. She is the matriarch of our school family.  She encourages us all to take care of each other, students and staff alike.  I am so proud and excited to see her take the helm at HOB,” Holtkamp said.


For her part, Santiago could not imagine being anywhere else.  She has spent the greater portion of her life at HOB, as a student, parent, teacher, and administrator.  Santiago and her husband, Sandy (another HOB alumni) raised their children, Sandito and Talia, just a few blocks from the school they all attended.   Both children currently attend the University of Florida, just like their mother, and plan to return to make their home in the Keys.  Sandito is completing his second year of medical residency, and Talia, a pre-law student, often substitute teaches at HOB during school breaks.


Santiago, whose life mantra is “Knowledge is Power,” looks forward to continuing to uphold the school’s rich traditions, while bringing her own style of leadership and motivational strategies to meet students’ ever changing needs. Her vision for Horace O’Bryant School is one that continues to uphold the ideals and standards established throughout her many years of service, while continuing to base every decision in the best interest of the students.


“I'm so proud of having spent my entire career at Horace O'Bryant School, my alma mater, and am truly excited to continue to work with the HOB Family of Pre-8 teachers and students to help HOB continue to be the diverse, loving, and successful school that we are today,” Santiago said.


Perhaps it is Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning and Incoming Superintendent, who said it best, “Denise Santiago is an exemplary educator, who cares deeply about her students and faculty,” Axford said.  “Her life-long devotion to her school is unparalleled.  Denise Santiago is the right captain for HOB moving forward.”