A top Broward school administrator who was praised for her efforts to provide healing after the Parkland massacre — and then criticized for her role overseeing the controversial Promise program — is stepping down.
Veteran educator Michaelle “Mickey” Pope, chief of student support initiatives, announced her retirement plans Thursday, becoming the latest in a growing list of high-profile administrators to step down in recent months. Since December, the school district has also lost its chiefs of police, human resources, facilities, technology and public information.
Pope’s last day will be March 31, with Chief Academic Officer Dan Gohl assuming her duties until a replacement is named, Superintendent Robert Runcie said in an email sent to School Board members Thursday.
“It was not an easy decision. I have been doing some important and impactful work on behalf of the children of this county, with some very great people by my side,” Pope, 58, wrote in a letter to friends and colleagues. “I know there is much more to be done, but after talking with my family, and after talking with my God, it feels like the right time for me to move on and pass the baton to some very capable people who can take the work to the next level.”
Runcie told School Board members that Pope informed him of her plans to retire around this time a year ago.
“I asked her to stay on to complete a few critical student support projects and later to take on the first year of recovery after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy. Her fearless advocacy for students and transformational leadership has helped build district capacity in all areas of student support. She has been exemplary and will be difficult to replace.”
Pope had not signed up for the district’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, a commonly used benefit that provides a lucrative payout for people who plan their retirement five years in advance. She could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Pope was the executive director of student support services last year when a gunman killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas. She oversaw efforts to provide grief counselors and therapy dogs to students and staff and open resiliency centers where families facing trauma could receive services.
“In my humble opinion, she was the only who could have taken care of all that stuff that happened at Stoneman Douglas,” said Rebecca Dahl, a retired Broward principal who is active on district committees. “Her team was out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
But it was another part of her job that received the most attention. Her department oversaw the Promise program, which provides alternatives to arrests for students who commit minor crimes. The program became symbolic of a lenient discipline culture that allowed students like the Stoneman killer to receive endless second chances without police being involved. The district is overhauling the program now to try to address some concerns of law enforcement.
School Board member Nora Rupert, who supported Pope’s promotion, expressed shock Thursday in an email to Runcie.
“Oh Mr. Runcie, what a loss! Didn’t know she planned on retiring, especially with the [district organizational] chart creating a whole new division for her to manage!” Rupert wrote. “I am stunned and saddened by her departure. Mickey will be sorely missed. Too, too many people — really great people — have left this organization in the last two years.”
In recent months, Police Chief Robert Hutchinson, Facilities Chief Leo Bobadilla, Chief Information Officer Tony Hunter, Chief Public Information Officer Tracy Clark and Chief Human Resources Officer Craig Nichols have resigned. Runcie has named interim replacements for most of these positions, often requiring the administrators to do both their old and new jobs.
The district has faced turmoil since the tragedy, calls by Parkland parents and Gov. Ron DeSantis for Runcie to step down. After complaints from Parkland parents and a series of stories in the South Florida Sun Sentinel scrutinizing district operations, DeSantis persuaded the state Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate how the district handles security and other matters. Runcie survived an attempt last week by new School Board member Lori Alhadeff, the mother of a Parkland victim, to fire him.
Pope, whose family immigrated from Haiti when she was a young child, started working for the district as a teacher at Dillard Elementary in Fort Lauderdale in 1988. She made history in 1999 when she took over North Side Elementary, becoming the district’s first Haitian-born principal. She continued to climb the ranks, becoming an area supervisor and later overseeing the district’s outreach to diverse groups including minority, immigrant and LGBTQ students.
“I’m going to miss every moment that I spent working for Broward County Public Schools,” Pope wrote. “It’s a special place that I have loved working at, filled with people that I have loved working with.”
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