SHADY HILLS — When Katie Lail read about the principal musical chairs at Mary Giella and Moon Lake elementary schools, she was more surprised by the lateness of the changes than aware they would affect her life.
But when the ad for Giella's top job appeared on her school's bulletin board, the assistant principal at West Zephyrhills Elementary decided to go for it.
Days later — and just a week before students were scheduled to show up — she found herself moving boxes and photos into her new office for her first principal job.
West Zephyrhills Elementary principal Emily Keene was disappointed to lose Lail.
"She was probably one of the best assistant principals I have ever had the opportunity to work with. I was so sad that she left," Keene said. "But she was definitely ready to take on a principalship."
The transition came easier for Lail than she expected.
"This school is so prepared for opening," Lail said Wednesday, as families streamed through classrooms for registration. "That is great. It gives me a chance to see how things work … and to get to know the families and faculty."
Ties to the community will play an important role in how Lail plans to run Giella.
"I want to see parents from school in lots of different venues," she said, noting that such connections will help her establish even stronger school bonds.
She also wants to create links to the new Crews Lake Middle School, which sits just around the corner from the elementary school. Giella teachers already have expressed an interest in working closely with the middle school to share programs and even provide student support when possible.
"That would be a really big goal for me," Lail said. "I'm coming in fresh. I don't have any preconceived notions about anything or anyone. We can just do what is best for kids."
Keene said working with the community and faculty to make decisions is perhaps Lail's strongest point.
"She's very collaborative in her decisionmaking. ... She works together very well with all of the people to make school improvements," Keene said. And because of Lail's training as a guidance counselor, Keene added, "she's very good at mediating … and very good at having the outcome be a win-win."
Academically, Giella earned a C grade from the state last school year. It missed a B by four points. After reviewing student FCAT results, Lail said, the staff has determined it will spend time improving math instruction.
"Although we made improvements, you can never sit back and say, 'Okay, we made it,'" she said. "We didn't make as much improvement as we really needed to."
Teachers will more closely monitor student progress in math with more regular testing. That will help pinpoint areas where teachers need to focus their lessons.
Lail plans to lead the effort, working closely with teachers to help them get the best training available.
"Our job as administrators is to make sure we are constantly helping our teachers develop professionally," she said.
She expects teachers, like herself, to give their all to this effort while in the classroom. But she insists that they take time for themselves and their families, too.
"I've already told the teachers I don't want them working on the weekends or at night," she said, the guidance counselor in her coming out. "The work will never, ever get done. You can just get sucked into that kind of thing. There needs to be some balance."
Lail grew up in Shrewsbury, Mass., and moved to Florida to attend Stetson University. She got a teaching job in Volusia County, where she met her husband-to-be, Douglas Lail, a longtime Pasco resident with strong ties to the area. She moved to Pasco in 1982.
After a short time, the Lails moved to Massachusetts for a few years, returning to Pasco and taking jobs with the school district in 1988.
"He's a Florida boy," Lail said of her husband, who oversees lawn equipment maintenance for the school district. "He wanted to come back to Florida."
The couple has a 21-year-old son who attends Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.