Julie Tipton knew this was where she belonged as soon as she walked the grounds last year.
"I felt drawn here," said Tipton, who will soon finish her first year as principal at Nativity Catholic School in Brandon, which was ranked 26th out of 50 small businesses in the Tampa Bay Times' annual list of the top places to work in the Tampa Bay area. Employees described a warm, spiritual environment where children and giving back to the community are the focus. Parents are heavily involved in the school, and there are few discipline problems with students, Tipton said. Employees appreciate being able to speak freely about their faith.
There is little turnover with the school's staff of nearly 80, so it was fortunate there was a vacancy for the principal's position when Tipton was job searching. Her husband of more than 20 years, Marine Lt. Col. Clay Tipton, was transferred from Rhode Island to the U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. Tipton has worked in education for two decades and spent recent years as a school principal in California. She didn't think she would find a place she loved as much as her prior school, but she has.
"This is beyond a job. This is a ministry," said Tipton, whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan. They have two teenage daughters, one of whom is a seventh-grader at Nativity. A cherished time is the school's Mass each Wednesday morning.
"There is never a day I wake up and I think, 'I don't want to go to work,' " Tipton said.
The school campus and church are a haven set back from the chaotic and noisy State Road 60. Nativity opened in 1961 with 95 students. It now has nearly 700 in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
Each grade works on a project for charity. The second-graders sell lemonade to raise money for autism research, the seventh-graders collect baby items for the pregnancy center.
About 15 percent of the students' parents are alumni. And some alums, like Christina Stout, have come back to work. Stout, 26, has taught first grade at Nativity for four years.
"It's like coming home," she said. "It's a family."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.