Success Through Prep

Meet three movers and shakers whose success was first groomed in top South Florida preparatory schools

By Jana Soeldner Danger

Students who aim to apply to Ivy League universities are almost all top-notch scholars. Attending a preparatory school may give them the edge they need to stand out among the best of the best. Sending a child or grandchild to a prep school is prudent because the education institutions have more freedom than a publicly funded school to nurture and
develop a student’s unique strengths and talents that go beyond academics.

Selecting a school where it is assumed that everyone is headed for higher education can offer a curriculum and extracurricular experiences specifically designed to help students polish themselves to become more desirable to the best universities.

“A private school focuses more on its mission of preparing students for college,” says Stephen Keeler, a Harvard graduate who recruits for his alma mater. “A public school has to — and should — offer a broader curriculum. A prep school can craft and customize its mission.”

Keeler attended St. Joseph’s, a Jesuit prep school in Philadelphia. His four children also attended St. Joe’s, and all went on to top colleges: Penn State, George Washington University, Loyola and Boston College. While Keeler believes that public schools can also offer top quality education, a prep school name on a college application may give a student a differential edge.

“It’s human nature to look for what’s reliable, and the reliability factor develops over time,” he says. “Because a prep school has a track record, we know if we accept this man or woman, we’re not taking as much of a risk as we would be with someone from a school we haven’t had anyone from before. It’s a more measurable risk.

“A student won’t automatically get in to an Ivy League school because he or she is a valedictorian, because everyone who applies is a valedictorian,” says Keeler, who interviews prospective Harvard students. “Everyone has high SATs and good grades.It’s a matter of defining and differentiating yourself. And prep school can help students identify and develop that skillset.”

South Florida Opulence would like to introduce you to three impressive success stories so you can see firsthand how their prep schools helped shape their lives. Turn the next few pages to meet former students of Gulliver Schools in Miami, University School at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.


Alex Slato, Pine Crest school

Slato002It would probably take three or four people to replace Alex Slato.

That’s because he is accomplished in so many areas of the art world that are usually separate specialties. As president of his own company, The Business of Art, the Pine Crest graduate helps manage galleries, conducts art auctions, performs appraisals, and coaches artists on legal steps they need to take to protect themselves.

Slato entered Pine Crest as a freshman boarding student in 1983 and graduated in 1987. His father died shortly after that, making it necessary for him to return to his native Venezuela to run his family’s art gallery. “I was the youngest curator in Latin America,” he recalls.

Pine Crest Made A Big Difference For Me
Slato enrolled at Universidad Catolica in Caracas, where he attended classes while working full time at the gallery. He credits his experiences at Pine Crest with helping him maneuver that difficult period. “Pine Crest taught me how to study, and the high academic standards there helped me learn how to juggle all that,” he says.

Slato majored in communications, believing it would help his career more than a degree in art. “Every day at the art gallery I talked with artists and collectors. I was getting so much education interacting with living icons in the art world, I wanted to enhance other skills.”

In 2001, he was recruited to become part of the executive team developing the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calf., a 60,000-square-foot structure that is the largest Latin American art museum west of the Mississippi. He remained there until 2010.

An Anchor in the World of Art
Today, he continues his career as an appraiser, a professional art auctioneer and a coach, as well as an art educator. “I’m very passionate about teaching kids who are interested in art about how art changes life,” he says. “For me, art is a healing process. When I see a child look at a painting, and see in his face the ‘aha moment,’ that’s what’s most rewarding for me.”

Although he still maintains a presence on the West Coast, Slato is currently expanding into South Florida. “So many of my friends are here, and many of them are ones I made at Pine Crest,” he says.

As a boarding school student at Pine Crest, Slato also grew close to teachers who helped fill the roles of parents who lived in another country. One of them, Linda Brunner Weiss (“I called her Mama Weiss,” Slato recalls) remembers him as one of the most enthusiastic students she ever taught in her art history class. “He was thoughtful and always open to new ideas,” she remembers. “He worked hard for his grades. He was also very polite, which stood out, as so many teens are anything but polite.  He was a gem.”


Reinaldo Santamarta, NSU University School

Reinaldo-SantamartaAs vice president of Unipharma USA, Reinaldo Santamarta is at the helm of a business that will employ 150 people and annually produce 1.4 billion units of innovatively packaged medications when it opens next spring. The American division of his family’s Venezuelan pharmaceutical business is scheduled to begin production in April in a new 160,000-square-foot facility in Tamarac.

Santamarta moved to South Florida from his native Venezuela when he was 8, and entered NSU University School as a second grader.  He graduated in 2001 and then studied business and finance at the University of Miami.

Immediately after receiving his degree, Santamarta returned to his native Venezuela to work in the family business, which his father insisted he learn from the ground up. “My first job was in the warehouse loading shipping containers,” he says.

Innovative Pharmaceutical Commerce in Tamarac
The Tamarac facility will produce liquid and cream medications like pain relievers and cough suppressants in individual vials so that each dose is precisely the correct one. The innovative manufacturing process forms, fills and seals each individual container in a single, continuous process without human intervention.

Too often, dosages of liquid medicines packaged in bottles are imprecise because patients use kitchen spoons or other devices to take them, Santamarta says. “One tablespoon isn’t necessarily the same size as another one. The single-dose packaging units guarantee exact measurements and can help prevent overdoses.”

NSU University School A Catalyst to Success
Attending NSU University School helped put him on the path to his success as an adult, Santamarta says. “The school makes you want to do well and make something of yourself. The students push each other, because everybody wants to be the best. It makes you competitive.”

When Santamarta gets in touch with former classmates, all of them also seem to be in impressive careers, he says. “Everybody I associated with at school is doing something important now.”

Sharon Smith, chair of University School’s math department, remembers Santamarta as someone who not only focused on achievement, but also recognized the importance of giving back to those around him. “His genuine compassion for others, his fierce determination and his beautiful smile distinguished him from the thousands of students I have taught in the past 27 years,” she says.

Oh, and University School did something else for Santamarta that has nothing to do with business success. It’s where he met his wife, Lisa Marie, a 2002 graduate. They have two children, 2-year-old Reinaldo, and Valentina, six months. In the not too distant future, they will also be University School students. “It’s important to me that my children do what
I did.”


Saif Ishoof, Gulliver

Saif-picExecutive Director Saif Ishoof oversees a team of 200 AmeriCorps Members who serve as tutors, mentors and role-models to empower students at risk for falling off track from graduating on time with their peers.

The graduate of Gulliver Schools left his position as CEO of FCT Technologies, a firm engaged in international renewable energy, crop science and water resource management, to join nonprofit City Year Miami in 2009. “My parents embedded a spirit of service in me,” he says. “They told me that we honor the American Dream by helping others achieve it. At City Year, I see the power young people can have in transforming the urban environment.”

A Quest to Make a Positive Difference
Born in Guyana to a family originally from India, Ishoof moved to South Florida when he was 2. He attended Gulliver from 6th grade until graduation in 1993, and then went on to study history and diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated with a degree in foreign service.  A year later, he entered the University of Miami School of Law.  “I thought that it would be a doorway for me, because I’d seen the power that lawyers have to effect change in our society,” he says. “Before Thurgood Marshall became a Supreme Court Justice, he was a civil rights lawyer.”

Ishoof graduated with a juris doctorate in 2000. Then, when the tragedy of September 11 happened the following year and touched off widespread distrust of Muslims, the young Muslim lawyer found himself working to build bridges with law enforcement, elected officials and the media.

Ishoof’s career has also included founding a startup technology firm and serving as an executive in the agricultural engineering sphere. But he discovered where his true passion lies when he joined City Year Miami. “My dad always told me that when you can mix your passion and your talent, that’s the key to unlocking opportunity.”
Marguerite Graham, a biology instructor at Gulliver, recalls Ishoof as a good student and caring human being who went the extra mile to help others. “My most significant memory is of him coming to my home with his friend to help me, a single home owner, after Hurricane Andrew,” she says. “To this day, I am touched by his thoughtfulness.”

Ishoof’s years at Gulliver taught him the importance of top quality education, and he has made it his mission to help disadvantaged youth understand that, too. During his five-year tenure, City Year Miami has more than doubled in size and scope, with an expansion from eight to 17 schools.

“I was so fortunate to have the kind of education I had,” he says. “It really positioned me to be a difference maker in leveling the educational playing field for everyone. That’s what wakes me up in the morning and keeps me excited.”

Success Through Prep