By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
BREVARD -- Joseph Loffek began his fifth year with Melbourne Beach's Gemini Elementary School with quite the honor -- being named the recipient of Brevard Public School's Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership.
The honor, which was announced on Wednesday, Aug. 21, by Dr. Brian Binggeli, superintendent for BPS, and honors an elite group of school administrators for their exemplary contributions to students, schools and communities.
Mr. Loffek's professional career began on a much different track.
"Before becoming a teacher, I was a firearms instructor at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station," Mr. Loffek said. "Prior to that, I was a police officer for the city of Cocoa and before working for the city of Cocoa, I served in the United States Marine Corps as a military police officer."
In 1988, while coaching baseball for 14 to 16 year olds in the Cape Canaveral area, Mr. Loffek decided to return to school for his teaching degree.
"I learned that I loved working with kids. I found them to be fun, enthusiastic and eager to learn," Mr. Loffek said. "I also learned a lot about myself by working with kids. I loved the challenge of creating a winning team. I found the dynamics of bringing everyone together for a common purpose very self-rewarding."
Mr. Loffek said that often in the police field, he worked with children after a situation has occurred.
"In the elementary teaching profession, we more often than not work with children before a life-changing event occurs," he added.
Mr. Loffek earned his bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Central Florida in 1990, and earned a master's degree in Educational Leadership from NOVA Southeastern University in April 1994.
He first served as sixth-grade teacher at Holland Elementary, prior to serving as Port Malabar Elementary School's principal for 10-and-a-half years.
Like other principals in the Brevard County School district, Mr. Loffek faces his fair share of challenges.
"I would say my biggest challenge at Gemini is mostly connected to a lack of funding," he said. "As principal, I find it disturbing that our school-based budgets continue to shrink each year."
Mr. Loffek said that it is quite a challenge to keep the latest in educational software and hardware technology up and running and available to teachers and students, as well as maintaining the school's old air-conditioning system, while trying to find funding for teachers to attend conferences and seminars.
"Our district and local parent-teacher organizations provide as much support as they can, but it is clearly not enough to maintain the high standards we believe our students and teachers deserve," Mr. Loffek said. "I am concerned that, unless we find alternative ways to bring more funding into our schools, our school buildings, busses, staff development and human resources will continue to bear the burden."
Despite the many challenges he faces, Mr. Loffek said that, in spite of funding difficulties, he takes great pride in the faculty and parents, as they pull together to make Gemini Elementary one of the highest performing schools in the state.
"I have four goals for this school year," Mr. Loffek said. "To seek additional funding sources to continue the technology needs of my school; to support and maintain the great technologies we currently have in place; to continue to encourage teachers to attend and bring back new information from conferences and seminars; and to continue to maintain Gemini's high academic achieving status."
Mr. Loffek said that he plans to do so by maintaining strong community relationships and by searching for new business partnerships.
Jennifer Julian, assistant principal of Gemini Elementary, is thrilled that her colleague has been awarded the Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership.
"We are ecstatic and over-the-moon about this distinguished honor," Mrs. Julian said. "If I may say anything about our dynamic principal, it would be that Mr. Loffek's leadership is as easy as A-B-C. 'A' is for always aligned to Brevard County School's vision and mission. 'B' is for brings all stakeholders together -- teachers, students, parents, community members and business partners. 'C' is for compassionate and committed to student achievement."
"This is such a tremendous award," Mr. Loffek said. "Brevard has been a high-performing school district. Within our district, we have so many outstanding students, teachers and principals that make our schools great. To represent my colleagues as Brevard's Principal of the Year is a great honor."