The past 17 years at Out-of-Door under Mr. David Mahler’s strong leadership have been truly transformational. With a student body of 750 students, an innovative and comprehensive Pre-K-12 educational program, college preparatory curriculum, more than 200 employees, and two thriving campuses covering more than 90 acres, ODA’s growth since the early 2000s has been nothing short of impressive.
In 2004, Mr. Mahler, his wife Elizabeth, and their two young children Gus (Class of 2018) and Adelaide (Class of 2019) arrived at Out-of-Door to a community that welcomed them with open arms.
“Everybody’s very excited to have him here,” said Ron Gelbman, who led the search committee. “We have high expectations for him...Both the parents and the faculty were so impressed with him.” (Herald Tribune, February 5, 2004)
During his tenure as Head of School, Out-of-Door grew to be one of the top independent schools in Florida, regularly receiving high rankings in national reviews and earning acceptance into the prestigious Cum Laude Society which only recognizes the top 1% of schools in the nation. Under his leadership, Mr. Mahler shaped the evolution of a robust and dynamic curriculum in academics and the arts, as well as advancing the athletics programs. Of special interest was the school’s STEM curriculum; Mr. Mahler worked with top educators at Columbia University and the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering to develop a dynamic STEM curriculum that now carries through from Pre-K to grade 12.
Each year, student matriculation to 4-year colleges and universities has consistently improved, with ODA students matriculating to some of the most selective colleges and universities across the nation, 100% secondary school acceptance, and an increasing amount in merit scholarships awarded to graduates each year. Student SAT and ACT scores steadily rise every year, and numerous student-athletes choose to pursue their sport at the collegiate level, with many attaining acceptance to NCAA programs. Performing and visual arts students are encouraged by immersive programs beginning as early as Pre-K, with many talented ODA artists and performers continuing to study their craft in college. Faculty are proud to note that alumni regularly visit their former ODA teachers and report that they felt well-prepared for the rigors of college due to the well-rounded preparation they had while attending Out-of-Door. This sense of community, and a bond to ODA well past graduation, shows the true connection our graduates have with the faculty, staff, and school as a whole.
“You listened to our dreams and turned them into VISIONS,” said Dr. Linda Vasilaki. “Your encouragement and support of the arts have helped our dreams come true, including the beautiful Black Box Theater and the incredible growth of the Visual and Performing Arts. The confidence that you instill in us as a faculty allows us to explore new and daring ways of teaching and the students have reaped the benefits.”
In addition to curriculum and programmatic growth, Mr. Mahler led a period of exponential physical growth of the school on both campuses. Siesta Key saw the addition of The Kozel Family Amphitheater, The Dart Pavilion, a new marine biology lab, The Dart STEM Lab, The Thunder Hut, and the renovation of 100% of the existing physical plant. The Uihlein Campus expanded to include the Arts Building, Thunder Stadium and Athletic Complex, Malisoff Tennis Center, Taylor Emmons Memorial Field, Dietrich Family Baseball Complex, Gelbman Family Wellness Center, Dick Vitale Family Student Center, Dart STEM Center, Fox Field House, and the new Middle School campus. In addition, both campuses saw the installation of expansive solar arrays, making the school significantly less reliant on power from the grid and dramatically reducing its carbon footprint.
“Every member of the ODA family is held to these standards, and we do our best to live by them on a daily basis,” he said. “I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible people during my time here. Our students amaze me each and every day. Our parents are fully invested in their children’s education, and their strong support of the school is both steadfast and inspiring. Finally, our talented faculty and staff work tirelessly each and every day on behalf of our students. I have never worked with a stronger or more dedicated team of educators and professionals. They are our greatest asset and they are the heart of the Out-of-Door Academy.”
The faculty echoes this sentiment. “When I met you in 2006, I thought I was being handed a job. Quickly, I realized I was given more than a job, I was given a family. “ reflected Dr. Kelly Rose. “You have been there for me every step of the way. Through successes, challenges, changes, and all the bumps along the way, you encouraged me to be strong and to believe in myself. Your leadership inspired me to dream, work hard, and to inspire others through my own leadership. I wish you the very best, and thank you for all you have done for my family.”
“My work here has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling,” Mr. Mahler said. “Now it is time for me to move on so that the next leader of ODA can take our school to even greater heights...It has been a joy, a privilege, and an honor to lead the Out-of-Door community. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. Like you, ODA will always have a very special place in my heart.”