Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Browning wants to open field for principal hopefuls

DADE CITY — Pasco High School needs a new principal, and superintendent Kurt Browning has made no secret of his desire to find "the right person" to take the job at his alma mater.

But Browning has concerns that the Pasco County school district's method for picking principals might not give him the leeway he needs to hire the best replacement for Pat Reedy, who's held the post since 1999. The application deadline arrives at 4:30 p.m. Monday, and only six district assistant principals are eligible under current district rules.

"With all due respect to the people in the principal pool right now, philosophically I am not enamored with the process we use to choose principals," Browning said last week.

Under the previous administration, principal hopefuls had to be selected into a candidate pool by one of two methods.

They could apply to the pool at one of three times during the year, and then go through a three-step process that included writing samples and interviews with administrators who would approve or reject them. That could take up to four months. They also could complete a district-run principal preparation program, which was offered to a small number of people.

Without taking one of those two routes, they would not be considered qualified applicants for the jobs. That kept assistant principal Iveta Maska from applying for the principal job at Moon Lake Elementary School in 2008-09, when the position changed hands three times. Maska, now at Fox Hollow Elementary, said she knew she wouldn't be considered because she wasn't in the pool.

But were the field open to any applicants, "I'd probably look at that and say 'That's awesome. I probably should apply,'" said Maska, who provided stable leadership to Moon Lake as the door revolved on the principal's office.

Even applicants with well-established principal credentials from outside Pasco County, such as San Antonio Elementary principal Kay Coe (who had been her Iowa district's elementary administrator of the year), had to enter the pool. (Existing Pasco principals are already part of the pool for other principal jobs, though.)

The process has precedent in other school districts. But it's also come under criticism.

Pasco School Board member Allen Altman has for several years called for a less cumbersome model. His efforts to convince the past administration were unsuccessful. But Browning, a friend and business partner, "has recognized that's an issue," Altman said.

Browning said he had no specific ideas in mind for changing the procedures. Driving his effort, though, will be the thought that strong leaders must be able to rise.

"I need to make sure folks in our schools that have leadership abilities are given the opportunities without a very bureaucratic, overly controlled process," he said.

He expected to look for options in Florida's high-performing districts, such as Sarasota and Brevard counties, just as he has done for other issues.

Neither has exclusive principal pools.

"Our application process isn't really any different than any other job," said Gary Leatherman, spokesman for the Sarasota school district, which is going through the selection process for its prestigious Pine View School for the Gifted.

The district posts the position, and anyone may apply. The district tries to keep its requirements minimal, Leatherman said, avoiding long lists of things it wants to see.

"We don't want to paint ourselves into a corner" by keeping an otherwise qualified person on the sidelines because of a technical matter, he explained.

A selection committee reviews the candidates that meet the minimum qualifications, to decide who might best fit the school's needs. Officials determine that need in part by conducting a site analysis, where staff members, parents, students and others discuss the school's traditions, challenges and successes, and the characteristics they would like to see in a new principal.

That information is posted along with the job ad so applicants can see it as well.

The selection committee forwards its top recommendations to the superintendent, along with all the other applications, in case the superintendent wants to look at others, Leatherman said.

Brevard schools handle their searches similarly, spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said via email.

"Brevard does not have a principal pool," Irwin wrote. "We accept applications from all interested internal and external applicants. We consider all applicants who meet the qualifications for the position. Leadership training, resources, and support are made available to all employee groups."

The district has stakeholder sessions like those in Sarasota. It also has a screening committee that recommends candidates for consideration by the superintendent's staff and ultimately by the superintendent.

Browning acknowledged that he might not have time to put a new process in place to coincide with the Pasco High search deadlines. That doesn't mean he'll limit himself to the existing principal pool, though.

"I may unilaterally say no," Browning said. "I may end up appointing an interim principal … and delve into it, appointing a principal at the appropriate time."

Crews Lake Middle School also is expected to need a new principal, if the School Board approves the promotion of Chris Christoff to director of professional development.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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