TAMPA — It's not unusual for someone who's taken on a new job to receive accolades, and Johnny Bush is no exception.
What's a bit perplexing for Plant High School's newest principal is the terminology well-wishers have used since learning last month of his appointment to the position.
"It's kind of weird that people would say "Congratulations" instead of "Welcome," he said. "It is bizarre."
But Bush, who some parents and students already know, says he's taking it all in stride.
"It's an amazing opportunity," he said.
He replaces Rob Nelson, who held the top spot for 10 years. He's now an area principal coach.
A changing of the guard at a high school isn't big news in a large school district the size of Hillsborough. But it's the lack of turnover at any level at Plant that makes Bush's appointment notable.
According to a 2012 report from the Center for Public Education, the average length of tenure for a principal is three to four years. Nelson was principal for 10 years.
Bush's strong performance as the top administrator at Robinson made him a leading candidate during the search for Plant's new principal, said Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
Bush's connection to students is particularly outstanding, he said.
"He will know every student," he said. "He just has that presence that makes every kid feel good about themselves and every parent confident that their student will do well."
Connie Mayts, president of Plant's Parent Teacher Student Association, echoed Eakin's sentiments.
"We're thrilled to have him," she said. "He's so personable and already has such a passion for the school and students."
Before taking on the role, Bush said he conferred with his wife Lauren who works as a counselor at the school.
The most important approval came from his daughter, who is a junior at Plant.
"She's hot and cold with it," he said. "When her friends think it's cool, she's okay with it."
Bush has held a number of principalships since joining the district in 1997 as a teacher at Brandon High School.
Bush said he's noticed that Plant's strong sense of community and school pride is similar to that of Robinson, where he served as principal before moving last year downtown to the district's Professional Standard department.
Bush downplayed the historic rivalry between the two schools, pointing out that they "share families" with siblings at each building.
After a year away from running a school day-to-day, the transition has been "eerily smooth."
"I don't know what I don't know yet," he said.
At Plant, Bush said he's "not looking to fix things that are not broken" and will focus on assisting teachers and guiding students.
"I pride myself on being approachable and playing a supportive role to my faculty, administrators and teachers," he said.
An area of concern with student performance is getting Plant to a full 100 percent graduation rate.
Currently, 97 percent of the A-rated school's students receive a diploma. Bush, however, believes the gap can be closed.
"If you're that close, you should want to be 100 percent," he said.
Reaching that goal will require employing creative tactics to get students engaged with resources and programs designed to help them graduate, Bush said.
Healthy, daily doses of encouragement will be used as well, he said.
"Those are the kids we need to let them know 'Yes, you can go to college, but you need to do the work,'" he said.
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]