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Dunedin High students, parents push for principal to reconsider retirement

Dunedin High School principal Paul Summa breaks down while talking about his love for the class of 2009 to the students and their parents, family and friends during the school’s 2009 graduation at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Dunedin High School principal Paul Summa breaks down while talking about his love for the class of 2009 to the students and their parents, family and friends during the school’s 2009 graduation at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

DUNEDIN — Hundreds of parents and students don't want Dunedin High principal Paul Summa to quit.

They've joined a Facebook page praising his passion for students and condemning whatever factors are forcing him to retire.

"Mr. Summa is not only a fantastic principal, but also a good friend. Let us all hope he keeps his job," wrote one of the more than 335 members of the page.

Last week, the 63-year-old principal, who has headed Dunedin High since 2005, announced plans to retire amid allegations that raised questions about his leadership.

In an e-mail to his staff, Summa said he made the choice after an anonymous e-mail was sent to school district officials. He was investigated by the district last year. Summa said that even though those allegations were unsubstantiated, he didn't want to put himself or his staff through another investigation.

Current and former students and their parents say Summa put students first. They say he showed up at band fundraisers, backed students no matter what their aspirations and loved them so much he sometimes was overcome with emotion.

"He cared about his students so much he cried at graduation," said Zack Shannon, 18, who graduated this year. "We were 300 of Mr. Summa's kids he never had."

Shannon, who leaves for basic training next month, said that when he and one of his friends wore Army shirts on college day this year, Summa shook their hands and asked them to visit him after they complete basic training so he could congratulate them.

"You didn't have to be the jock or the smartest kid," Shannon's mother, Kim Allison, said of Summa's attitude. "Every student is special."

A recent allegation against Summa was that he let a student who was drunk walk into the school's graduation ceremony last month.

Allison and her son said they didn't notice anything unusual.

"Nothing overshadowed that graduation," Allison said. "I think Dunedin suffered a big loss losing Mr. Summa."

Summa joined the school district in 1989. Before coming to the district, he had served as a principal at a Catholic school in Houston and as a program specialist for gifted education in Palm Beach County.

His most recent evaluation will not be available until next year, but annual appraisals in his employee file are positive.

The one critical note he received last year was to work more closely with his administrative team so that it was more "effective and cohesive."

Summa did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Andrea Zahn, spokeswoman for Pinellas County Schools, said Summa has not submitted his paperwork to retire. But she said the district expects to receive it by the end of the month.

Shannon hopes Summa will reconsider.

"When I found out," he said, "the first thought in my mind was 'I feel bad for the kids that are still in school. I feel bad for the underclassman.' "

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Dunedin High students, parents push for principal to reconsider retirement 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 7:15pm]
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