WESLEY CHAPEL — In Pasco County, it's not common to promote the school's assistant principal to run the school when the principal leaves.
For Sand Pine Elementary School, though, superintendent Heather Fiorentino has made an exception.
Todd Cluff, Sand Pine assistant principal for the past 21/2 years, will lead the school upon Ginny Yanson's retirement in July. Yanson has been Sand Pine's only principal since it opened in 1998.
"He is phenomenal," Fiorentino said of Cluff, who spent eight years as a supervisor of professional development before moving to Sand Pine. "He's been ready to be a principal for a long time."
In many instances, moving up an assistant principal in the same school can prove difficult for the staff and the assistant principal. The transition can be hard, assistant superintendent Dave Scanga said, as the roles of principal and assistant are so different, as are the relationships with staff.
Just because a person might be a great principal doesn't mean they will succeed at any school.
That's a key concern, Fiorentino said, as she looks to fill current and expected vacancies at several schools over the coming couple of years.
She has yet to choose a replacement for Chasco Elementary principal Dolly Gauvey, who will take an unexpected yearlong leave of absence. Over the next four school years, at least nine other elementary principals are scheduled to retire, with other "surprises" likely.
Several older principals have said they might consider an early retirement incentive that the School Board is exploring, if the deal is good enough.
Yet the district has only eight people in the elementary principal pool, including two just added in the past few days.
"We're working hard to grow that next generation of leaders," Scanga said. "We're not just looking at how do we fill today's positions, but how do we make sure we're putting the right person in the right slot and have the right people available for the next few years."
That goal prompted Fiorentino to retract her plan to replace Centennial Elementary principal Cynthia Harper at the end of this school year. Harper came out of retirement to lead the Zephyrhills-area school, and the superintendent declared early on that she would keep Harper for one year only because of her plans not to extend any employee's early retirement plan contracts.
But Harper never entered the state's deferred retirement program (DROP) before leaving Wesley Chapel Elementary, and she took a lower salary to return to Centennial. Most important, Fiorentino said, Harper is "the right fit for that school."
"We always try to select the best person for that job in that community," Fiorentino said. "It makes our system stronger."
Harper said she got the news late Monday and was "so excited."
"I have really enjoyed this year with the staff and the children and the community," she said. "It's a good thing."
Topping Harper's agenda for the coming year will be reorganizing and consolidating special education programs among the east Pasco elementary schools.
Cluff's promotion gives Sand Pine some continuity as it sees Yanson leave. Cluff said he told Fiorentino that if he could not be the school's principal, he did not want to leave the school so it would not have two brand new leaders in the fall.
Fiorentino said she likes to have stability in school leadership for at least three or four years, and Cluff fit well with the school's community and culture.
Cluff had no plans to make major changes to Sand Pine, though he acknowledged the need to find methods to reach the school's growing percentage of students in poverty. He expected to carry on the school's effort to better help struggling students before they fall too far behind.
"It's very humbling, honestly," he said of his appointment. "They're willing to trust me. That speaks very profoundly to me about the responsibility."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.