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Denise Aloma
Saint Thomas Aquinas High School
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Principal Denise Aloma is a seasoned educator, with a career spanning more than 50 years. She has taught and studied in the United States, Canada, and Jamaica, giving her an international perspective on teaching and learning. Much of her professional career has been at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, where she served as an English teacher, Assistant Principal, and principal for seven years.

While Principal Aloma’s leadership is deeply rooted in the traditions of Catholic education, she embraces innovations to support the school’s academic offerings. Her commitment to ensuring that all students graduate with 21st century skills contributed to Saint Thomas becoming one of the first Catholic high schools in the country to adopt a STEM focus and has served as a model for other schools in effective STEM program implementation. She has also helped the school grow successful pre-professional programs, where students can explore pre-law, pre-med, and pre-engineering. To help more students accelerate their learning and explore career pathways, she designed and implemented Saint Thomas’ Summer School Program, where students can get ahead in core content areas, giving them more flexibility with their schedule.

Principal Aloma’s innovation extends beyond academics to supporting the social-emotional needs of students and teachers as well. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she felt a keen need to bring the school community comfort and a renewed sense of hope. She established a school-wide bereavement support group called the Circle of Hope, which drew on expertise of the Theology Department and School Counseling Department to assist those struggling. She supported faculty and their families by expanding access to childcare, offering alternate job roles, and successfully advocating for expanded staff sick and personal time.

Recognizing that families and students from all walks of life are represented at Saint Thomas, Principal Aloma has instituted systems to build a welcoming and inclusive community. The school has a long waiting list, but she ensures that enrollment includes students from disadvantaged financial backgrounds. She initiated the Partners in Parenting program, which provides parents with support and practical skills to help raise their children. Mindful of national examples of social injustice and in keeping with her values, Principal Aloma convened external and school-based experts to create a Diversity, Inclusivity, and Sensitivity Committee (DISC), which has now transformed into a student led organization that promotes inclusive values and organizes service and experiential learning opportunities.

Eager to provide students with opportunities to grow and express themselves outside of school, Principal Aloma worked diligently to expand Saint Thomas’ offerings for athletics, the arts, and an array of extracurricular activities. The school now boasts a performing arts center where students act, dance, and play music.

While Principal Aloma’s vision and hard work can be credited to much of the success at Saint Thomas, the school community praises her collaborative and inclusive leadership. She always invites conversation, and seeks input and feedback from an array of stakeholders in response to new ideas or an emerging need. She is highly visible, appearing all over the school as she brainstorms with faculty, makes sure students are enjoying lunch, observes classes, and stops in at club meetings. As one parent humorously observes, her energy and constant presence might make one wonder if she has a secret twin.

When reflecting on the characteristics that best define Principal Aloma, parents, teachers, and other school leaders cite Saint Thomas’ students’ academic success as evidence of her skill as an instructional leader. Beyond her clear ability to inspire great teaching and learning, they admire her warm and compassionate heart and the fact that she embodies so many of the school’s values through her daily manifestations of service, kindness, and integrity.