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Embattled Alafia principal steps down

TAMPA — After months of complaints from parents, Alafia Elementary principal Ellyn Smith is stepping down.

On Tuesday afternoon, teachers at Alafia learned Smith had asked the school district for a transfer to another job. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, announcing the news at a School Board meeting, stressed that it was Smith's decision.

Smith's husband, Ashley Smith, was in the audience, prepared to defend his wife if parents again spoke out against her. He says a handful of parents have maligned her, noting that she has led a 34-year career with the district marked by promotions and outstanding evaluations.

"The kids have been coming up to her crying, 'How can these people say these mean things about my principal?' " Mr. Smith said, explaining his wife's decision. "It wasn't fair to the kids, and it wasn't fair to the Alafia community who doesn't believe all this that their name was getting raked over the coals."

Elia said she would try to honor Smith's request to transfer, but had not yet decided on her new role.

Within the next two weeks, Elia plans to choose the next principal at Alafia. She plans to visit the school next Wednesday at 7 p.m. to answer questions from parents.

Frustrated parents have criticized Smith for months, citing high teacher turnover, low morale and concerns about student safety and behavior, among other problems. A recent school assessment cited a "very stressful work environment."

It recommended steps to improve the atmosphere at the school, which has continued to earn A grades from the state. Smith became the principal there in 2005, after seven years as principal at Seffner Elementary.

In recent weeks, parents have bombarded Elia with e-mails, phone calls and even started a blog with complaints about the principal. More than 270 residents have signed a petition calling for Smith's removal.

"We're excited and relieved," Alafia parent Amy Dreyer said. "Hopefully she won't be a principal somewhere else."

Dreyer was on her way to the board meeting with several other parents Tuesday evening when they learned the news. They planned to announce a PTA vote of no confidence in Alafia's administration. Upon hearing of Smith's planned departure, the group sang in celebration.

In other business, the School Board discussed two ways to save money with no end in sight to state cuts to the education budget. Hillsborough expects to save almost $2-million by moving to a four-day week this summer. Employees will work longer days in order to shut down schools and district offices on Fridays.

Also, except in rare cases, school officials are prepared to stop allowing teachers to defer their retirement beyond five years, an option in the state's retirement program.

Though relatively few teachers qualify, school officials anticipate saving more than $4.5-million because these experienced instructors are among the highest paid.

Principals on the move

The School Board named new principals at the following schools Tuesday.

Steinbrenner High: Brenda Grasso, currently principal at Gaither High. Not effective until April.

Strawberry Crest High: David Brown, currently principal at Leto High. Not effective until April.

Lennard High: Loses principal Denny Oest, appointed general director of secondary education. His replacement is not yet named.

Lomax Elementary: Connie Chisholm, currently assistant principal at Seminole Elementary.

Progress Village Middle Magnet: Michael Miranda, currently principal at Davidsen Middle.

Embattled Alafia principal steps down 12/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:32pm]
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