Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

After lashing by state officials, Hillsborough puts new principals in four struggling schools

TAMPA — Criticized by a state board for delaying leadership changes at four D-rated elementary schools, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins made good on that promise this week with four principals who have strong track records.

The School Board on Tuesday approved these principal appointments: Toynita Martinez, 57, to Dover Elementary; Laura Zavatkay, 57, to Mango Elementary; Terry Hawthorne, 55, to Palm River Elementary; and Debbie Mills, 59, to Pizzo Elementary. The appointments take effect on Monday.

All four schools are among 24 that are in state-ordered turnaround plans this year.

Eakins had agreed previously to reassign the four schools’ principals by Dec. 15 and when he did not do so, he incurred sharp criticism from the state Board of Education at its meeting in January.

Hillsborough and other school districts have scrambled this year to make improvements at their D-rated schools as changes in the state law accelerated the turnaround process.

The changes made this week bring Hillsborough into compliance with that portion of the agreement.

Instead of pulling principals from other schools, Eakins tapped four educators who are currently in central office jobs.

But, collectively, they bring a wealth of leadership experience.

Hawthorne led Broward Elementary before she became a human resource partner in 2015. Broward’s grade rose from a D to a B while she was there.

Martinez, now a supervisor of academic support and federal programs, was the principal of Booker T. Washington Elementary, which under her leadership improved from and F to a C.

Zavatkay, who works in the district’s educational leadership office, was the first principal of Robinson High as that school added an International Baccalaureate program. Before that, she opened the district’s first K-8 school at Roland Park. As a principal coach, she helped first-time Sligh Middle School principal Shellie Blackwood-Green take that school from a D to a C.

And Mills, a district employee since 1986, is an elementary generalist in the Office of Teaching and Learning. As a school principal, she helped Foster Elementary improve from an F to a C and later a B.

The four principals now at the schools will stay there until the end of the school year, to provide continuity, help the students prepare for state competency tests. The new principals will perform the teacher evaluations.

"We know what’s best for kids in Hillsborough County," Eakins said. "And the continuity is critical. You can’t take away the relationships and the progress that is currently happening in those schools."

Member April Griffin questioned the wisdom of such a plan in tight budget times. "I’m doing the math and it’s still a good deal of money to have two administrators at one school," she said.

But Eakins assured her that the four will not be replaced in their central office jobs, and no one will get a pay raise.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol

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