TAMPA — This year's graduation will be particularly bittersweet for Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School's founding principal.
Phildra Swagger, 43, will not only say goodbye to the seniors, but to the school itself. She is stepping down after four years to start her own education consulting company.
It was her vision that initially led former Buccaneer Derrick Brooks to pursue the charter school idea. Working with the DeBartolo Family Foundation, the high school is primarily for middling to high-achieving students who may fall through the cracks at larger public schools.
Brooks said Swagger not only sparked his passion but ensured the school, currently graded "A" by the state, was successful.
"She's got great leadership skills and even more than that good people skills," he said. "She rolls her sleeves up and gets them dirty."
Swagger, who lives in Brandon and is married with two children, said she will miss her personal relationships with the school's 280 students.
Four years ago, the school opened at 11602 N 15th St. at Fowler Avenue with grades 9 through 11. This year's 64 seniors are the first class to have attended all four years.
"Brooks-DeBartolo has been a ministry for me," she said recently through tears.
Kristine Bennett, assistant principal at Terrace Community Middle School, will be the new Brooks-DeBartolo principal. She will transition into the new job starting June 13. Swagger's last day is June 30.
Before coming to the school, Swagger was an administrator in the Hillsborough County school system. Now, her plan is to create a company that helps launch charter schools and coaches charter school principals.
She also wants to form a nonprofit that gives Tampa students a chance to perform community service domestically and internationally.
"I'm leaving the school but not leaving the graduates," she said. "It's about creating new avenues for kids."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.