10 Graduate from VCS Principal Intern Program
DELAND – Ten Volusia County Schools administrators have graduated from the Principal Intern program, a state-approved, comprehensive two-year internship designed to prepare principals for the rigorous demands of the principalship.
Based on the Florida Principal Leadership Standards, the program aims to build leadership capacity through an extended series of professional growth opportunities and experiences. Throughout the program, the interns are responsible for demonstrating their proficiency with the Florida Principal Leadership Standards through completion of an in-depth portfolio documenting their growth, reflection, leadership actions, and the results of their leadership.
“The future of Volusia County Schools is bright with these 10 Principal Intern graduates leading the way,” said VCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz. “This is an extensive program, and we are grateful to these educators for making this commitment to our students and community.”
This year’s Principal Intern graduates are:
Eilene Ahr began her VCS career in 1988 as a paraprofessional at Osteen Elementary. Encouraged by teachers and her husband, Ahr began her journey to become a teacher. She attended Stetson University to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. In 1996, she began teaching at Sunrise Elementary, where she served for 17 years. She earned a master’s in educational leadership from American College of Education and, in 2014, returned to Osteen Elementary as the academic coach. She was appointed as assistant principal at Edith I. Starke Elementary in 2015 with a strong background in curriculum. Starke was the only F-rated school in VCS and, in one year, raised the grade to a C! Ahr entered the Principal Intern program in June 2019 and in July 2019 she was appointed principal of Starke Elementary, where she continues to ensure all students are learning at high levels. Ahr enjoys a simple life – coffee on the porch with her husband and visits with her adult children and their families.
Holly Bailey has been a VCS educator for 22 years. Bailey began as a 5th-grade teacher at Deltona Lakes Elementary in 1999. She served as an intermediate teacher, academic coach, and teacher on assignment for 15 years before beginning her administrative path as an assistant principal at George Marks Elementary in 2014. She also has had the pleasure of serving as an assistant principal at Turie T. Small Elementary and Southwestern Middle and principal of Pathways Elementary. She was recently appointed principal of Blue Lake Elementary for the 2021-2022 school year. In addition, Bailey is a proud product of VCS, graduating from DeLand High. She earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Central Florida and a master’s in educational leadership from Stetson University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her four children and time at the beach with a good book.
Nick Fidance graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics education. Fidance began his career as a math teacher at Galaxy Middle School in 2003. The next year, he moved to Campbell Middle, where he spent 10 years as a math teacher, teacher on assignment, and academic coach. He became a National Board Certified Teacher in mathematics/early adolescence and also returned to UCF to earn a Master of Education degree in educational leadership. In 2014, Fidance was appointed assistant principal at Westside Elementary and, the next year, he became assistant principal at Heritage Middle. After serving as the data administrator and Principal Intern at Heritage, Fidance has now been appointed principal of Heritage. He enjoys spending time with his wife and children.
Laura Figueroa was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, to parents who spent their careers in education. Figueroa started her teaching career within NYC public schools, where she taught for three years. She joined VCS in 2005 as a 7th-grade reading teacher at Galaxy Middle. She continued her teaching career at River Springs Middle, where she remained for eight years. Figueroa earned a master’s degree in educational leadership at Stetson University. In January 2016, she was appointed assistant principal of Osteen Elementary. She has been appointed principal of Sugar Mill Elementary School for the 2021-2022 school year. Figueroa enjoys spending time traveling with her family, visiting every beach along the Florida coast.
Jennifer Holmgreen began her career with Volusia County Schools in 1995 as a paraprofessional at Indian River Elementary. Holmgreen went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Central Florida. After teaching 3rd- and 4th-grade for several years, she chose to explore a new role as a media specialist, serving at both the elementary and high school levels, including her alma mater, New Smyrna Beach High. Holmgreen earned an education specialist degree from Stetson University, with a focus in educational leadership. As a lifelong resident of New Smyrna Beach, she was thrilled when she was appointed assistant principal of Coronado Beach Elementary in 2014. Her career came full circle in 2020 when she became principal at Indian River Elementary, the same school where she had begun her career 25 years earlier.
Dr. Melani Johnson
Dr. Melani Johnson has served the students and families of Volusia County since 2002. Johnson began her career here as a 3rd-grade teacher at Turie T. Small Elementary. She also served as reading coach at Turie T. Small, which earned an A rating for five straight years in her tenure. In 2015, she was appointed as assistant principal at Sugar Mill Elementary, then to Tomoka Elementary for four years. She was accepted into the Principal Intern program in 2019 and returned home as principal of Turie T. Small Elementary in fall 2019. Johnson earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Florida Atlantic University, her master’s in reading and language arts from Nova Southeastern University, and her doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She enjoys riding her Harley and RVing with her husband and four children.
Kristina Kania began her teaching career in 2000 at Discovery Elementary, where she taught for 11 years. Kania also served Starke Elementary and the district Curriculum and School Improvement Services team as an instructional coach. In 2014, she was appointed assistant principal and served in that capacity until being named Principal Intern at Orange City Elementary in 2018. In June 2020, Kania was appointed principal of Sunrise Elementary. She is a product of VCS, graduating from Pine Ridge High. She is proud of her ties to the Deltona community and thankful to be serving in her hometown. She received her bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Central Florida and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of New England. She enjoys spending quality family time in the Florida sunshine with her husband, Nick, and three children, CJ, Shelby, and Kellie.
Jay Strother is a product of VCS, graduating from New Smyrna Beach High School. Strother earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise and sports science from the University of Florida and later a master’s degree in educational leadership from Grand Canyon University. He began his teaching career in 1997 at Deltona Middle School as a physical education teacher. He has served in many roles over the years. His first opportunity to be an assistant principal was at Holly Hill School. Since then, he has served as an assistant principal at Spruce Creek High and is now an assistant principal at Creekside Middle. Strother takes pride in being a servant leader and relies on building positive relationships each day. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and relaxes by spending time on his motorcycle whenever he can.
Paul Struska has been serving at VCS since 2016. Struska began his teaching career in Duval County in 2008 as a music teacher before teaching various grades in elementary school. He served as a math coach for two years and then was appointed as assistant principal. Struska’s family relocated to his wife’s hometown of Port Orange in 2016 to raise their two young daughters. He has served as assistant principal and Principal Intern at several schools here and currently is principal of McInnis Elementary School. Struska believes that building relationships with all stakeholders is the key to the success of a school and looks forward to serving VCS for many years to come.
Dr. Eidie Velez
Dr. Eidie Velez is a proud product of VCS, attending Galaxy Middle School, Deltona High, and graduating from Pine Ridge High. Velez began her career in VCS 21 years ago as an office specialist. She began her love for teaching at Heritage Middle School in 2003 as an ESE teacher, served as a district placement specialist for five years, was appointed as assistant principal in 2015, and then as Principal Intern in 2019. Velez began her principalship in 2020 and is very proud to be serving the students, staff, and community of Friendship Elementary. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Saint Leo University and her doctorate degree in educational leadership and exceptional student education from Nova Southeastern University. Velez has a passion for education and loves learning, leading, and serving those around her. She believes in the power of “can” and “will” and believes that through dedication, commitment, and collective efficacy that ALL students can and will succeed. She loves traveling and spending time with her family: husband Wilson and two daughters, Jeidi and Jeida.
Together, We Are Stronger