Friends to the Rescue

June Morris hadn’t ever thought much of her high school days since she graduated in 1979. In fact, she says her time at Coral Gables Senior High School wasn’t “defining of my life in any way,” but does add that she had “a positive experience” at the school. Then, while on a drive with her stepdaughter one day, Morris saw how much the campus had deteriorated over the last 30 years. A veteran journalist, Morris went to investigate for herself, documenting everything on video.

“I could not believe the state of the campus,” she says. “All the paint was peeling, weeds were growing up the sides of the building, there were wires hanging down from the ceiling, there was mold…. It just looked really, really terrible.”

The video caused an immediate controversy, prompting School Community Relations Committee Chair Sam Joseph to lead a meeting at Morris’ house to discuss the issue. Over 40 people turned out, including then-mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli. It was here that Friends of Gables High was born. Composed of alumni, parents, and community members, the Friends now have a lot to show for their efforts to raise the school’s profile and support both students and faculty.

Coral Gables Senior High School’s new courtyard, thanks to Friends of Gables High.

In their inaugural year of 2019, Friends of Gables High began working with School Board chair and representative Mari Tere Rojas, who became instrumental in raising more state funding for school upgrades. The School Board had initially approved $11.2 million in 2012, but while there were improvements to the air conditioning and electrical infrastructure, its main project — constructing a new two-story building — had still not started.

The funds were also not enough for all that was needed. In the end, Rojas pushed the budget up to $48 million. This was earmarked for a new cafeteria, new windows, new roofs, renovated bathrooms, security cameras, hallway lighting, fresh exterior paint, a new fence, and artificial turf for the football and soccer field. Rojas is also working on acquiring an additional $10 million to replace the school gymnasium.

At the same time, Friends of Gables High raised over $500,000, which has gone towards a renovated staff lounge, grants for classroom needs, a senior’s courtyard, helping to fund beach volleyball courts, and more. Board Chair Jackie Gross-Kellogg says the organization is now focusing on renovating the Media Center to give students a more comfortable place to study, socialize, and take exams. The Friends also brought back the school’s Hall of Fame, which has inducted two classes comprised of 17 outstanding alumni since.

The staff lounge at Coral Gables Senior High School, before (left) and after renovations (right).

With more opportunities, the academics and demographics of the school have also improved. Under its new principal, Dr. Tony Ullivarri, Gables High has increased from a C-rated school to an A-rated school, which Morris says is particularly difficult to achieve in Miami-Dade County “because of our minority-majority status, which includes many English as a second language (ESOL) students and students who come and go throughout the school year.” Changing public perception over the last five years has also brought Gables residents back to the school, with enrollment of local students increasing from eight percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2024.

With the school approaching its 75th anniversary in Oct. 2025, Friends of Gables High is ramping up efforts to complete the remaining upgrades, which, with the exception of the gym, are expected to be finished in time to showcase the newly renovated school to the public next year.

“When you have a good idea and you present it at the right time and it makes sense, the right people show up,” Morris says. “It’s taken on an energy all of its own and it’s a delightful thing to see.”

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