After 25 years at St. Petersburg High School including 12 years as SPHS IB Coordinator, Susan Farias will retire on June 6, 2018. At the IB Boosters General Membership Meeting and the Senior Celebration gathering, Ms. Farias received an outpouring of gifts and appreciation for her tireless, caring and expert leadership. During her tenure here, approximately 2,100 students started the IB program with 1,406 seniors graduating.
Ms. Farias generously agreed to be interviewed during the final weeks of school while being very busy as she wrapped up the school year and her IB coordinator responsibilities, packing her office, and while proctoring IB exams.
1. Can you summarize your career?
Before IB, I owned a fitness business, Tuff Stuff Workout. I also had a TV show on a local cable channel. I’m a mother of three grown children (two boys and one girl) and grandmother of three3 wonderful grandchildren!
I have been at SPHS for 25 years. My first position was as a long-term sub for Special Education. Following that I taught Psychology and Sociology in the traditional program. I became the Department Chair for Social Studies and in 1998 I began teaching in the IB Program. I taught Global Studies, IB Psychology and for most of my IB teaching career I taught Inquiry Skills, which was my favorite!
In 2005, Dr. Linda McPheron, the IB Coordinator at the time, went to work at the IB Headquarters in New York for one year and I became the acting IB Coordinator for that school year. She returned for the 2006-2007 school year and then retired. I became the IB Coordinator in the 2007-2008 school year.
The opportunity to be the acting coordinator set me up for success when I moved into the position. It was a great learning experience. Dr. McPherson was an excellent leader and served as a role model for me. She was always willing to answer any questions and played an important role in my career at St. Pete High. I am forever grateful for all she did for me.
2. Which accomplishments during your tenure are you most proud of?
We have implemented many changes to the Program over the years. I think that the addition of the Research class in junior and senior year has had a positive impact on students. The goal of the class was to provide students with a firm understanding of CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) and to prepare them with the research skills to write the Extended Essay. We have seen improvement in both IB requirements because of this class. Mr. Halstead and Mr. Maxwell wrote the curriculum for the course, and it has become an asset to our program.
The addition of the block schedule with CTSS was also a positive change to our program. This has been a team effort since we first investigated the possibility of changing the schedule. The schedule team consisting of Mr. Maxwell, Mrs. Ladd, and Ms. Domanski, make a positive impact on all our students.
Our Diploma pass rate has improved. Last year 99% of our seniors earned the IB Diploma; the world average was 78.4%. Earning the IB Diploma ensures that a student will earn the highest level of Bright Futures Scholarship even if they did not meet the SAT/ACT test score requirements. This saves them money when they attend an in-state public college or university.
The IB Booster parent organization has grown since I began 12 years ago. With their support we were able to create an IB website. Twelve years ago we did not have control of our own site, and it lacked information and consistency. The Boosters now provide ManageBac to our freshman and sophomore students, provide support for teacher and student classroom needs, and overall enhance the IB Program at St. Pete High. The continued support of parents and the hard work of the Booster Organization have made a positive impact!
To reduce the number of freshman who leave the IB program, as a team we came up with a system to provide more support for freshmen and to provide more parent contact. Using data from mid-term reports, students who are not meeting academic success are assigned Individual Academic Advisors to help improve grades and create success plans. This system turned out well so we implemented the same process for sophomores.
To prepare incoming freshman for success in Algebra 2, we implemented Math Boot Camp. Mrs. Ladd has been instrumental in the organization of this successful endeavor. We now offer students online help with Algebra 1 during the summer on IXL which is monitored by a teacher. We also offer some math help sessions during the summer at SPHS. The District now uses our model, and Math Boot Camp is offered at the other IB Programs in Pinellas County.
3. Do you have any funny or unexpected outcome stories from your experiences?
Unexpected: Rui and I got married in the SPHS Auditorium on the steps leading to the stage! We had planned an outdoor wedding and there was a tropical storm, so we went to the St. Pete High School campus instead.
4. What impact has this position had on you?
Working in the IB Program has been an enriching experience. I have had the opportunity to meet interesting parents, students and teachers whom I have learned from and who have impacted my life. The opportunity to be around a collective group of people of all ages that loves learning and values education is very rewarding.
5. What has made the role most satisfying for you?
Most satisfying has been the relationships I have made with students, teachers, and parents. We work as a team in IB to meet the shared goal of successful completion of the IB Program.
It is not always easy. This is not an easy program, and there are high expectations and lots of hard work involved.
It feels great to hear from graduates about how they are doing or to run into parents at Publix and catch up on our former students. There are so many success stories and I am so proud of each and every student. I know the sacrifices they made in high school and how hard they worked. It is wonderful to hear that it was worth it!
It is very satisfying to work with dedicated educators. The IB teachers are the best, and I am always in awe when I leave one of their classrooms. I don’t think they get enough recognition for their hard work. They go above and beyond expectations and have to juggle state requirements with IB requirements which is not easily done. They do it every day with style and grace.
6. Were there any challenges you had to overcome?
There are challenges every day! I have learned to be a better listener, whether I’m talking to a student, parent or teacher. Sometimes allowing the time for someone to vent and acknowledging their feelings solves many problems.
7. What are you looking forward to in your retirement?
I am looking forward to:
- Being able to walk in the morning and attend my Pure Barre class in the afternoon;
- Being able to prepare dinner at eat at a normal hour – no more night duties! And
- Experiencing what the rest of life has in store for me. I’m open to new adventures and I definitely have to keep busy. I like to keep moving, so a part-time job sounds good to me!
8. What advice would you give to your successor?
The IB Program at St. Pete High was the first IB Program in Florida. We have a rich history and our school and program are well-known and well-respected in the IB Community. In 34 years there have only been three IB Coordinators.
I would provide the following advice:
- Work hard to maintain the integrity of this Program. Learn the history of the Program. Learn and value the traditions and the history of St. Pete High.
- Be a strong advocate for keeping what makes IB successful (e.g., small class size, academic advising).
- Listen–to teachers, parents and students. They want you to succeed and are there to help you.
- Return phone calls and respond to emails as soon as possible.
- Work hard but make time for yourself and your family.
I was lucky to have had an excellent role model in Dr. McPheron, who was always available to answer my questions. I will do the same for the new coordinator.
I have given 12 years of my life to this Program and my wish is that it will continue to be successful. The IB Program at St. Pete High is a treasure in the community, to be taken good care of. I’m here to help!
9. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the IB community?
Thank you, parents, for your many years of support and thank you for choosing the IB Program for your children.
Thanks to the students for keeping me young. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t know what’s in style! Your many talents are commendable. You are not only smart and hard-working, but you are athletes and performers! When I was your age I could not have done what you do. I will miss you the most!
Leading this program has been a team effort. I cannot thank the IB teachers enough for their support, talent, and the willingness to go above and beyond their work day. They all are very talented in so many ways and are selfless in sharing their time and talents. Together, we are strong!
Finally, thank you to Mary Lou Derrickson who for 12 years has put up with me and my often obsessive cleaning, organizing and decorating of the IB Office.
I love St. Pete High and I love the IB Program. I am very glad I was given this opportunity so many years ago. I owe thanks to Dr. McPheron and Al Bennett for putting their faith in me.
I leave here knowing I have done my best and I look forward to what God has in store for me.
We love you Ms. Farias! You will be missed.
Interview by Maureen Corbett, photos provided by Joe O’Connor. Click to enlarge and to start a gallery viewer.