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Miami High School teacher recruitment adds diversity to faculty

Pictured (l-r): Jimmy Crosby, Liz Barangot, Neil Franco and Paul Fine. Images provided

The administrative stability established in the Miami Unified School District over the past decade has been enhanced by diverse hiring in the teachers’ ranks, which is giving students a global perspective in their rural educational experience.

A wide range of voices from across the U.S. and the world are bringing various cultures to the classroom, giving Miami High School students important tools they can take into the workplace and to their own lives after they graduate.

Students are not only being exposed to different teaching methods but also to people they would not normally meet on the streets of Miami or Globe.

“We have teachers who were trained in the American education system, but we also have teachers from India or the Philippines, who prepared in their own systems,” says Vice Principal and Athletic Director Paul Fine. “Then there’s the personal side of things where our community and our students are exposed to individuals from different cultures: They’re shown how big the world really is, which is one reason I got into education, because I had all these life experiences and opportunities, and I felt that if I share those, I’m sharing the wealth. That’s what it’s all about.”

Fine himself is an example of that diversity. A New York native, the 37-year-old went to school in Maryland and has lived worldwide, from Moscow to Las Vegas, where he attended UNLV. He even taught at an alternative school in San Diego.

MHS Vice Principal and Athletic Director Paul Fine.

Despite his relative youth, Fine has taught for 13 years and worked alongside both former MHS Principal Glen Lineberry and current Principal Shawn Pietila in the San Carlos Unified School District.

Pietila and Fine have developed a solid personal relationship that has only enhanced their professional dynamics, making them a formidable administrative team.

“Shawn’s been in administration for four years, but I’m new to it,” Fine says. “He makes it look so easy and he’s calm while he’s doing it.”

In addition to Fine and his worldly experience, MHS has recruited two teachers from the Philippines who are now entering their second academic years and have seen both sides of the transition from Lineberry to Pietila.

Lizelle “Liz” Mortola Barangot teaches English Language Arts and Drama to 10th and 12th graders, bringing more than 10 years’ teaching experience—one-third of her life—in the Philippines, Nanyang Henan, China, and now in Arizona.

Lizelle “Liz” Barangot

When Lineberry hired her prior to the 2022 academic year, Barangot was considering job offers in Phoenix and Florida, but is glad she opted for the MHS job instead.

“I love Miami High School. The school itself is really positive,” she says. “I feel like it’s a family: The school, the administration and the principal are like my backbone, and whatever I need they’re always there.”

Barangot says the only difficulty she’s encountered is the lack of public transportation in the region, but she is learning to drive, and her love for Miami makes the struggles worthwhile.

Neil Franco is also Filipino and is in his second year teaching 11th-grade English, Journalism, and Coding.

Neil Franco

Franco has been teaching for four years and is pursuing a doctorate in special education. He says the transition into American classrooms has been a challenge, but he is learning a lot from his experiences in Miami.

“It’s a different approach, different atmosphere and everything, but change is inevitable and I learn a lot every single day,” Franco says. “I was a fan of Mr. Lineberry, and I really like Shawn, who has a completely different approach. I also like the way that they so seamlessly changed over to the new administration.”

In addition to globe-trotting teachers, MHS has also tapped into the local population to round out and enhance programs that fit in with regional demands for talent.

To that end, the MUSD has hired long-time Agricultural instructor and Future Farmers of America (FFA) Advisor Jimmy Crosby, who has taught for 15 years in six different school districts.

Jimmy Crosby

Crosby’s family has been in Arizona since the 1880s, his father was born in Greer in 1936, and he has a lifetime of experience running cattle, both in Arizona and in Texas.

He began his teaching career at Snowflake High School and has taught in Round Valley and Eager as well as a stint at an Oklahoma school.

But he returned to Globe so that his wife could be closer to her aging parents, teaching both in San Carlos and for a year in Globe High School. Just as Crosby was on the cusp of leaving the area, MHS reached out and asked him to build a successful program in Miami.

He feels like he has finally found a place to settle in for the long haul.

“You know how sometimes in life when you don’t get to make the decision you want, but you find out that you made a really good decision by not getting what you wanted?,” Crosby posits. “I feel like this is probably the best opportunity I’ve had as an ag teacher: I have really liked being here as much as anybody can like a teaching position.”

The MUSD has given him the go-ahead to build an on-campus facility and Cosby is now seeking donations to get the first phase of the project underway.

Crosby credits Fine and Pietila as well as “an assistant superintendent that is contagiously motivated” to make Miami a leading agricultural school in the state. He expects it will take about three years to build the program, but sees buy-in from both the school administration and students.

“I have students that want to learn here and I think that that’s directly related to the stability of the organization,” Crosby says. “That’s the culture they’ve consciously worked to build in the last 10 years and I think it’s paying dividends.”

Fine gives some credit to the sports backgrounds he shares with Pietila and the importance it has on creating a sense of community for the smooth transition. He also thinks that the first week of the school year—dubbed “Vandal Week”—offered a chance to mark MHS’s direction for the future.

“The beginning of the year was a big neon sign that said, ‘hey, things are different now’,” he says. “I think our students appreciated the level of connection and opportunities to build connections that were available to them through Vandal Week and I think it’s led to a little bit of extra pep in students’ step.”

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