Amber Saunders finalist for Assistant Principal of the Year Award

UPDATE: Saunders honored as Assistant Principal of the Year on Jan. 25.

Amber Saunders, an assistant principal at Jupiter High School, is a finalist for the Palm Beach County School District’s Assistant Principal of the Year Award. The winner will be announced at a formal ceremony on Jan. 25.

“It is an honor. There are a lot of really great assistant principals in our district that do a lot of great work, put in a lot of hours into their job, so it’s really an honor to be picked out of that larger group as someone who is deserving of the award,” Saunders said. 

Dr. Colleen Iannitti, Jupiter High’s principal, nominated Saunders for the award, and the instructional superintendents at the district level will decide on a final winner. All finalists had to complete an extensive application and will be featured on The Education Network this month. 

“We had to complete these writing responses, so four questions about things we’ve done to increase academic achievement for students and to improve culture. [We also had to submit] a resume and recommendation letters from the principal and another colleague,” Saunders said. 

Saunders has been an AP at Jupiter High for five years and has worked at the school for a total of 15. Her efforts not only as an AP but also as the school’s AICE Coordinator led to her nomination. 

“I think I was nominated because I’ve done a lot of work with our AICE program to increase opportunities for students, add a lot of advanced coursework for kids at our school, increase opportunities to earn international diplomas and Bright Futures,” Saunders said.

Saunders was instrumental in building the AICE program at Jupiter High. In fact, the program is now one of the largest in the district, offering dozens of advanced courses in subjects ranging from international history to digital media to travel and tourism.

“In 2012, when we brought the program here, I was part-time coordinating with Coral Daversa and part-time in the classroom,” Saunders said. “I piloted the AICE General Paper class as a teacher, and then the next year came out of the classroom altogether and was a full-time coordinator, as a TOSA.” 

While a teacher on special assignment, or TOSA, Saunders decided she wanted to expand the AICE curriculum each year, and she still continues to add new courses. 

“Even though it has grown leaps and bounds since 2012, there is always another course, there is always another way, there is always an academy that might have a class that could benefit them,” Saunders said. 

Last year, Saunders added AICE Physical Education to the Medical Academy for sophomores to help students learn more about anatomy and physiology.

“It’s great for the students to learn about anatomy, physiology and kinesiology as it pertains to how the body moves in athletic activities,” Andrew Mook, AICE Physical Education teacher, said. “Saunders is most deserving of the AP award because she always thinks about what’s best for the kids. I’m glad she decided to add this class and ask me to teach it.”

Like Mook, Rebecca Hansen, AICE Global Perspectives teacher, recognizes all that Saunders does not only as an assistant principal but also as AICE Coordinator.

“I don’t think the AICE program would run as smoothly as it does without her,” Hansen said. 

Along with being her colleague, Hansen is Saunders’ cousin, so she knows Saunders’ character very well. 

“As a person, she is one of my favorite people in the world,” Hansen said. “She has been a mentor to me since I was a kid. She used to babysit me, and now she’s like my mentor at work. I’ve always looked up to her.”

Saunders has a good relationship not only with Jupiter High’s faculty but also with the students, and she is known for pushing them to take harder classes, her communication skills and her fair discipline. 

“She’s really nice and understanding,” Aaliyah Chinpire, a third-year AICE student at JHS, said. “She also responds to her emails really quickly. I like that.”

According to Saunders, her top priority as a leader is to help students be their best selves.

“I have a fairly good rapport with most of the kids,” Saunders said. “They know I’m going to be fair. They know I’m going to try to be relatable, so when I’m dealing with students on the discipline side, I think that’s popular with students.” 

Her desire to help students beyond the classroom was one of the main reasons she considered becoming an AP.

“I decided to be an assistant principal because I wanted to find a way to impact more students positively, more than just the students in my classroom,” Saunders said. “I have over 400 students, and running the AICE diploma program I’m working with 2000 candidates, so I just wanted to find a way to continue working with students, but maybe in a larger capacity.”

The AP and AICE Coordinator position was not Saunders’ first leadership role at the school. 

“I was class sponsor, the yearbook adviser for five years, and I was a department head for English,” Saunders said. “I’ve always found little leadership opportunities to take on, regardless of my position, so it just seemed for me like a natural progression.”

As an AP, Saunders’ job responsibilities vary day-to-day, and she enjoys the versatility.

“Sometimes, it’s encouraging someone to come to school on time, sometimes it’s encouraging someone to apply for college, sometimes it’s encouraging someone to just make better decisions in their life,” Saunders said. “I think that I can have a positive impact on kids’ lives and that’s what motivates me to want to come to work every day.”