VALRICO — Alafia Elementary School has one of the best academic reputations in the district as one of only two elementary schools in the county to earn an "A" rating every year since the adoption of letter grades. But the school has faced problems beyond grades in past years.
Lisa Jackson became principal of Alafia in January 2009 after former principal Ellyn Smith resigned. Smith had faced criticism from parents who said she was a major source of the "very stressful work environment" cited in a district assessment of the school.
Jackson spoke by phone with the Times earlier this week to discuss her impressions after her first full year as Alafia principal.
How would you assess your first full year as principal?
I feel like things are going very well. I just have a really great staff. We have a great community, great parents, great kids — all my staff, they just keep a really great focus on the students. We keep our curricular goals.
What was the biggest challenge you've faced over the past year and a half?
I think I was fortunate because I had been here before. I had been here 10 years teaching, so I knew how some of the procedures worked. … It was just coming in here not as the teacher anymore, but as the principal.
As a principal you want to remember what it's like to be a teacher. You want to make decisions with the students in mind, but also with the teachers. And also as a mom. … You put all those together.
What were your strategies for going into a school that had been identified as a "stressful work environment"?
I let them know that with me coming in and this changeover in administration, that I was really about the present and the future. When I met with both teachers and parents, it wasn't going to do any of us any good to talk about the past. I had the utmost respect for my predecessor, Mrs. Smith. I knew that there were many, many sides, and no matter where anybody stood on what side, there was a lot of hurt. I told them that I didn't want to know the stories. … We held true to that, and I don't know the stories. And I don't want to know the stories.
The children were just great. The children, I didn't see any residual affects.
What is your favorite thing about Alafia?
It's all the people. … The parents and the community members and the teachers. And of course the children. The children are always your favorite. You're having a bad day and you go and walk around and spend time with the kids, they make everything better.
The kids are definitely at the very top of that list.
Hilary Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2441.