Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Assistant principal tapped to lead Weeki Wachee High School

WEEKI WACHEE — Troy LaBarbara had his sights set on the principal's desk when he started his career in 1993. Now he's set to lead Hernando's newest high school.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt has tapped the 42-year-old assistant principal at Weeki Wachee High to take over when Dennis McGeehan retires on April 27.

That means LaBarbara will likely be the handing out diplomas to the school's first graduating class in 2013.

"I've seen a lot of graduating classes go through in my career, but this will be the most special," he said. "I've gotten close to a lot of these students, and there's nothing I want to see more than them walking across the stage."

Blavatt selected LaBarbara from five internal applicants. All of them had homegrown assistant principal experience.

Among them was LaBarbara's fellow assistant principal, Sue Lisk, who held an assistant's post at Central for nine years — and had a hand in hiring LaBarbara for an assistant's job there three years ago — before transferring to Weeki Wachee in January 2010. On paper, Lisk has more administrative experience, but she is enrolled in the state's deferred retirement plan and must retire in November 2013.

LaBarbara has experience working to improve student performance, and he doesn't rattle easily, Blavatt said.

"Which is a nice trait for a principal," he said. "He seems to communicate well with the public."

The other applicants were Brent Gaustad, assistant principal at Hernando High since 2008; Carmine Rufa, who held an assistant's position at Springstead High for a year and at Powell Middle for five years before heading to West Hernando Middle in 2008; and Tim Urban, manager of professional development for the district. Urban served as assistant principal at Springstead from 1998 to 2002 and has five years of assistant principal experience in Pasco County.

A native of East Islip, N.Y., LaBarbara moved to Florida at the age of 12. His family settled in Spring Hill a year later.

As part of a psychology course during his senior at Springstead High, LaBarbara worked with students with Down syndrome. The experience made an impact.

"That's what drew me to education," he said.

LaBarbara graduated from Springstead in 1988 and earned an associate's degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Florida State University with a focus on learning disabilities, emotional handicaps and early childhood education.

He started his career in Tampa, teaching middle school students with learning disabilities. He moved the following year to Gulf High School in New Port Richey, where he taught the same population until 1997. That year, he became a job placement transition specialist at Gulf, helping students with varying levels of disabilities get the education and training they needed to enter the workforce.

McGeehan hired LaBarbara in 2009 for an assistant principal's position at Central High, then left the following year to open Weeki Wachee and brought on LaBarbara last year.

"He's very diligent about what he does, very proactive," McGeehan said. "He's very open and approachable."

LaBarbara credits much of his success to the support of his wife, Lina, a media specialist at Land O'Lakes High School who helps keep him up to date on the latest education technology. The couple's son, Nicholas, attends Powell, and 9-year-old daughter Hannah is at Winding Waters K-8.

During his final year at Central, LaBarbara helped write a grant application designed to help the school land the resources needed to lift its D grade. Many of the strategies used at Central can be implemented at Weeki Wachee, even though it's a new school that started with a B in its first year of grading, LaBarbara said. The school opened with about 580 freshmen and sophomores, and the current enrollment is roughly 930. That figure is expected to climb to about 1,260 next year, when the first seniors will graduate.

LaBarbara takes his first principal's job amid a sea change in education policy. A new teacher evaluation system based on student performance is being implemented this year, end-of-course exams have begun to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test at the high school level, and all students will be required to take online courses.

"I have plans for all of these things," LaBarbara said. "I just feel like I'm ready to be in that leadership role now."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or

Assistant principal tapped to lead Weeki Wachee High School 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 7:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. The Killers coming to Hard Rock Live in Orlando


    They're reliable festival headliners, and they're about to embark on a North American arena tour.

    The KIllers
  2. Back to School 2017: What you need to know


    With the start of classes less than three weeks away, the Tampa Bay Times' back-to-school special report debuts today.

    The Times' annual back-to-school coverage debuts today with information families can use to start the new year. [Times files]
  3. Hillsborough and Pinellas to keep park entry fees, while Pasco makes them free again

    Local Government

    One thing stands between Mark Crawford and the mackerel schooling in the topaz saltwater around the pier at Fort De Soto Park: a toll booth. And even if the lady inside is as sweet as orange blossom honey, she still wants his five dollars.

    Jermaine Ferguson takes the $5 entry fee from a visitor at Fort De Soto Park on Wednesday. Pasco County has done away with recession era park fees, but Hillsborough and Pinellas county plan to continue to charge people to use parks like Fort De Soto and Lettuce Lake Park. LARA CERRI   |   Times

  4. Oldsmar promotes Al Braithwaite to city manager

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — He's a self-proclaimed "numbers guy,'' who holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of South Florida. Al Braithwaite is also a basketball fan who played hoops at Eckerd College while earning his bachelor's degree in management with a minor in finance, and he is a native New …

    Al Braithwaite  has 18 years of experience with Oldsmar City Hall.
  5. Senate Obamacare effort dies; Rubio in favor of repeal, Nelson against


    WASHINGTON - The Senate Republican effort to Obamacare failed early Friday, with John McCain providing a decisive vote.

    The Senate vote