BROOKSVILLE — The sun had yet to rise on Bryan Blavatt's first day on the job, but the new superintendent was already at work.
Blavatt arrived at Hernando High School before 7 a.m. Thursday, sat down in a conference room under a leopard print wallpaper border, and waited for staffers to arrive.
School workers formed a line to greet their new boss. Teachers, coaches, paraprofessionals stepped up to shake a hand and exchange a pleasantry or two.
"I wanted to come here first," Blavatt said at one point.
"We feel special," a teacher responded playfully.
"You should. You're the flagship school of the county," Blavatt said.
Blavatt talked a little football, a little classroom software. He said he'd been following state Senate Bill 6.
"It is horrible," he said.
Math teacher Jim Turner grabbed Blavatt's hand.
"We're on the verge of great things here," Turner said.
Blavatt agreed. The sentiment, he said, goes for Hernando High and the district as a whole.
"It's time to wake the sleeping giant," he said.
Blavatt's first day comes less than three months after a united School Board chose him from five finalists. The board wanted a successful candidate in place by July 1, but Blavatt, who retired in 2008 after 12 years as superintendent in Boone County, Ky., voluntarily moved up the timetable.
Blavatt and his wife, Barbara, spent about 12 hours in the car on Tuesday and closed on a house in Silverthorn on Wednesday. A high school art teacher, Barbara will head back to finish the semester in Kentucky, then join her husband this summer.
Blavatt, 63, thought he would be spending the first couple of weeks in a hotel room, but the closing happened earlier than the couple expected. The furnishings won't arrive for another couple of weeks, though.
"It's just me and a bed," he said.
The initial weeks of a new superintendent's tenure typically come with a mix of excitement and anxiety as district employees ranging from custodians to top officials get to know their new leader's style.
Blavatt's long tenure in Boone is impressive compared to the average for school district bosses, and he earned statewide superintendent of the year honors in 2006. Still, as a newcomer from out of state, he is likely being watched with some wary eyes, especially after Hernando's experience with his predecessor, Wayne Alexander.
Alexander came with a mandate to be a change agent. By many accounts, however, he did too much too quickly, and with a management style that one former board member described as "bull in a china shop."
Blavatt, a jovial man who kept board members laughing through his interview, has vowed not to make any major changes until he has had plenty of time under his belt. But he steps into the leader role as the district faces a big list of issues topped by a grim budget picture.
As she watched employees chat with Blavatt, Hernando High assistant principal Jill Renihan admitted she was pulling for an internal candidate to get the job. "Someone who knows the county," she said.
And few know the county like her current boss, Ken Pritz, who has three decades of experience here.
But Renihan sees encouraging qualities in Blavatt, too.
"I think Mr. Blavatt's got good vision," she said. "He's thoughtful and decisive, and I think that's the direction the (district) needs right now."
Sonya Jackson, the other internal finalist who served as interim leader for the last six months, now heads back to the assistant superintendent post she'd held for just eight weeks or so.
"He's very intuitive. Outspoken," Jackson said. "I think he's going to fit right in."
Jackson said her stint as top executive will help her be a better second in command. "I will be coming back to this position with a different view," she said. "I've had an opportunity to see a bigger picture."
After the meet and greet, Pritz and Blavatt stepped out into the morning fog.
Blavatt, a former high school principal, marveled at size of the sprawling campus and how few students roamed the outdoor pathways during class.
"It didn't used to be like this," said Pritz, who was tapped by Alexander two years ago to raise the school's academic performance and cuts its discipline rate.
Blavatt browsed a computer desktop in a technology lab, got an up-close look at an art room's kiln, and shook the hands of custodians and cafeteria workers.
At one point, he peeked over the shoulder of a student working on an assignment in a business class. He shook his head and smiled.
"You're on your own," he said.
Pritz took the opportunity to do a little lobbying. He pointed out a darkened outdoor hallway lined with lockers. "We really could use some brighter lights," he said.
A little after 10 a.m., Blavatt stood in front of about three dozen district employees and a few board members in the School Board chambers.
An official swearing-in ceremony with the help of Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink will take place during the April 13 School Board meeting, but the state requires superintendents to take the oath before they start work.
After he raised his hand and solemnly swore, Blavatt told his new charges how excited he was to be there. A school district can be "a second family," he said, and he is glad to be a part of this one.
"That means we will have squabbles, but hopefully we'll all keep ourselves focused, and support one another and do what's best for the kids in this community."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.