Pinellas principal under investigation; replacement takes over immediately
Maureen Thornton, the fourth-year principal at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg, has been removed from her position and placed on administrative leave with pay, school district officials said this afternoon. The district's Office of Professional Standards is conducting an internal investigation of Thornton (above) but would not release details.
Thornton was in the news in February when her estranged husband, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was killed after he went on a shooting spree in the suburban St. Louis town of Kirkwood, killing five people and injuring two others during a city council meeting. Maureen Thornton also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in September. A former school administrator in Missouri, she rose quickly after being hired by Pinellas Schools in 2003. She worked as a special education teacher and behavior specialist at John Hopkins before becoming an assistant principal in 2004 at Safety Harbor Middle School. Fomer superintendent Clayton Wilcox appointed her principal at John Hopkins in 2005.
The investigation began Nov. 11. District officials said it would not be complete before January.
Bob Poth, a veteran administrator with the district, will take over as the permanent principal for the 1,300-student magnet school, which is known for its art, drama and journalism programs. Poth (left) met with the school's staff Thursday morning and said he plans to be greeting parents Friday in the car line. He also said he plans to visit every classroom and accompany the school's drama team to a competition Saturday at Countryside High.
Poth, 49, is in his 26th year with the district. He spent the first 15 years as a teacher. More recently, he was the founding principal at St. Petersburg's Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary, which opened in 2003. Last year, he became a district-level administrator as part of a program by Wilcox to develop new leaders. Poth helped oversee 43 elementary schools. Then on Tuesday, deputy superintendent Harry Brown called him and asked him to take the reins at Hopkins.
Poth said his two daughters attended John Hopkins about 10 years ago, focusing on arts and journalism. Today, one is a teacher at Perkins Elementary and the other teaches journalism at Gibbs High.