HUDSON — Hudson Middle School principal Terry Holback has weathered a storm of staff criticism to retain her job for another year.
"I'm not planning on making a principal change at Hudson Middle," said superintendent Kurt Browning, who at one point had the position on his short list for added scrutiny. "We've had a coach working with Ms. Holback. I believe that she is changing."
Holback's name went to the School Board on Tuesday for reappointment.
In July 2012, she was bandied about as one of the most disdained principals in Pasco County schools.
The United School Employees of Pasco released a climate survey that showed an overwhelming majority of teachers had negative views of Holback, who took over the school in 2010. They said she had damaged morale and treated staff members unprofessionally. By September, School Board members were raising concerns about Holback's fitness as they continued to receive complaints.
A district-sponsored climate survey conducted in early 2013 showed Hudson Middle lagging behind most other Pasco County middle schools in key areas such as whether employees like working there and whether the administration handles conflict constructively.
USEP president Lynne Webb said this week that she continues to hear negative comments about Holback from her members, despite a large staff turnover at the school.
"The feedback I've gotten is that, while things have settled down some, there is still a lot of room for improvement," Webb said. "I personally expressed to the superintendent that I was disappointed that she was not among those (principals) who he was moving."
Webb suggested it would be more fair to everyone to give Holback a second chance to lead at a different location where she could make a fresh start.
Holback said she had taken the climate surveys seriously, and that she was trying to improve where she is.
"I am very pleased that I will be able to continue working with the wonderful families, teachers, and staff that make up the Cougar Nation!" she said via email. "We appreciate the superintendent's confidence in us."
Browning expressed confidence that Holback's work with retired principal and administrator Renee Sedlack as a mentor was having a positive effect.
"She is understanding the bigger picture of how you manage a middle school and how you deal with staff and students," he said of Holback.
Sedlack, who teaches graduate-level education leadership courses at Saint Leo University, started working with Holback in February. She said the principal convened focus groups of employees soon after getting the district's survey results to learn more about their concerns.
She then set targets for the coming year.
"My three goals for the coming year include establishing a positive behavior support system, continuing to improve communication processes in the medium that best meets the needs of stakeholders, and to work on relationship building," Holback explained. "I shared these goals with the staff to be sure that I was meeting their expectations. I have used this school year's culture survey as my baseline data and plan to use next year's survey to measure my progress."
Browning said he will conduct another climate survey of all schools in the winter, to ensure they are focused on the needs of children rather than the struggles of adults.
Sedlack credited Holback for taking the often-harsh criticisms to heart and committing to change. At the same time, Sedlack acknowledged that not all is perfect at Hudson Middle.
"It takes time to build trust," she said. "I think that things are getting better. Yes. All right? I can't say that. She has a plan in place for things to get better. She is sincerely concerned about doing a better job."
Shortly after taking office in November, Browning also announced he would pay close attention to two other schools.
He moved to fire Connerton Elementary principal Anna Falcone this spring, amid accusations that she was insubordinate in the way she pursued confidential climate survey responses. A settlement is in the works. Sedlack also had been counseling Falcone.
He didn't pursue any action regarding Wesley Chapel High principal Carin Nettles. He said early complaints from Wesley Chapel High did not persist.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.