BROOKSVILLE — Central High School principal Dennis McGeehan is no stranger to the experience of opening a new school.
The veteran Hernando County educator was a faculty member when F.W. Springstead High opened in 1976. Same for Spring Hill Elementary, and he was principal at West Hernando Middle when the school moved to its current campus on Ken Austin Parkway, next door to Central.
But McGeehan has never started a new school as principal. Now, he's in line to do it.
Interim superintendent Sonya Jackson has selected the 57-year-old Spring Hill resident for the top post at the yet-to-be named school north of Weeki Wachee set to open next fall. She made the announcement to district staffers Tuesday.
She called McGeehan a proven leader with a diverse resume that seems to be leading up to this kind of challenge.
"He certainly has plenty of experience," Jackson said. "Dennis is a very fair individual, knowledgeable about a lot of topics, easy to get along with and a good leader.
Jackson's pick must now be approved by the School Board at a regular meeting. Judging from the reaction of School Board members, that is likely to be a formality.
"I know without a doubt that he would do a great job getting the school up and running," board member Pat Fagan said.
"I think it's an excellent idea," said board member Sandra Nicholson. "He's got the experience. He's been at Central for a long time and I think this is good opportunity to do something exciting."
"Central has had a good record," board member Dianne Bonfield said. "I think there will be smooth sledding with the experience he has."
For his part, McGeehan said the news brought mixed emotions of excitement about the opportunity and bittersweet feelings about leaving Central.
"When you have a position like this offered to you, it's certainly a challenge you look forward to," McGeehan said.
McGeehan started with the district in 1974 as a math teacher at the former Brooksville Junior High. He taught at Westside Elementary and Springstead and was teacher in charge — similar to an assistant principal at the time — at Spring Hill Elementary.
McGeehan then served as dean of students and assistant principal at West Hernando before moving up to principal, his first time in the top position. He stayed there for a decade before taking his current job at Central in 1996. McGeehan is Central's third principal.
A native of Long Island, N.Y., McGeehan's father worked for the Deltona Corp., the developer that helped Spring Hill sprout from the sandy soil of southwestern Hernando County. A 1970 graduate of Hernando High, McGeehan is married with two children, both of whom are Springstead High graduates.
He broke the news of his likely departure to his Central faculty during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"I told them they've been a great staff to work with and I'm confident they'll continue to have successes in providing opportunities for students as they have over the years," he said.
Jackson said she is still considering how to replace McGeehan, who would leave his post at Central early next year.
If approved by the board, McGeehan will stay at the new high school just long enough to get it established: His participation in the state's deferred retirement program requires him to retire in 21/2 years.
The $55 million school, on U.S. 19 a few miles north of State Road 50, will have a capacity of 1,529 students and will relieve overcrowding at Central and Springstead high schools.
The board has agreed that the school will start out with ninth- and 10th-graders, so some freshmen at Central this year would be sophomores under McGeehan at the new school.
"I think that's a great opportunity for the students to open a brand new school and get the traditions in place," he said.
It's a great opportunity for the principal too, said Dave Schoelles, who opened Fox Chapel Middle School in 1997 and who is now a curriculum supervisor for the district.
"It's a very rewarding thing to open a school, to select the staff from the get go," Schoelles said. "You're creating a whole new experience for kids. It's a lot of fun, but, boy, that first year is a lot of work."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.