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Five Hernando County schools welcome new principals

Making a trip to the principal's office? Expect to find new faces in five Hernando schools this year.

Some of the changes are due to superintendent Wayne Alexander's aggressive strategy to reassign administrators.

At other schools, it was a summer of uncertainty after the newly created assistant superintendent position created a domino effect of vacant positions sought by in-house candidates.

With schools set to open Monday, the picture has fully developed — at least for now.

Here's a bit of information about the new principals and where they hope to take their new schools during the 2009-10 academic year.

Dominick Ferello, Westside Elementary

During his first year with the Hernando district, Dominick Ferello guided the massive Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill on its maiden voyage.

The school opened with nearly 2,000 students, about 200 more than expected. There was another learn-as-you-go scenario for Ferello: Explorer houses the district's center for gifted students.

Ferello, 58, called it a career highlight, if a short one.

"Many people go through their careers and never get to experience something like that," he said.

Now Ferello leads Westside, a school less than half Explorer's size with a projected enrollment of about 730. The number is worrisome, he admits, because the school was projected to have 850 students. Some staffers might have to transfer, he said.

Some whispered that Ferello's move from the district's newest school to Westside after just one year was a demotion for his performance at Explorer.

Ferello, who missed a significant part of the year due to an illness, scoffs at that. Despite the inevitable bumps in the road, "We were successful," he says.

He says he's delighted to be back in an elementary school. After all, 28 of his 31 years as a teacher and administrator have been in elementary schools.

"This is a good fit for me," he said last week as he walked on campus past freshly painted buildings toward the scent of a barbecue for the staff. Ferello has formed a beautification committee to help spruce up Westside's campus, which features a main building that was erected in 1972.

One of his main goals is to dig into data to quantify what many teachers and parents say they know without doubt: The school's same-gender classroom program — headed into in its third year and still the only one of its kind in Hernando — provides a better learning environment for many students, helping to improve academic performance and behavior.

A plan is in the works to study test scores and discipline referrals, Ferello said.

The school earned an A in the state's accountability program last year and made the adequate yearly progress mandated by federal standards. That was possible, though, because the number of disabled students dropped and that subgroup wasn't counted, Ferello points out.

Still, the school's academic standing is a great starting point, he says.

"My job is to complement and enhance what's going on here."

Rick Markford, West Hernando Middle

Moving into the principal's office at West Hernando is the culmination of a dream for Rick Markford.

Markford has 26 years under his belt as an educator, all but three of them in Hernando County. He served as an assistant principal at Central High for eight years and then at Challenger K-8 last year.

West Hernando, situated between Central High and Pine Grove Elementary west of Brooksville and boasting an enrollment of about 975, is his first principal assignment.

"The positivity that this staff has shown and that I feel I've given them has gotten us off to a great start," Markford, 48, said last week. "It's a contagious thing."

When superintendent Alexander tapped Markford, he gave him a primary goal: Make adequate yearly progress under federal No Child Left Behind standards. Otherwise, the school will face sanctions that could include replacing staffers.

The strategy is to pay extra attention to what Markford calls "cusp kids," or students who are right on the edge of achievement levels on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"We're focusing on these kids that are a make-or-break situation right now," he said. "It's critical to bump them up and keep them up."

At West Hernando, that means students with disabilities, minority students and students from low-income families.

How to do it? The same way many schools will tackle benchmarks, Markford said — by poring over test results and targeting students who need the most attention.

"Teachers take greater ownership of disaggregating their data to personalize their lessons to the needs of their students," he said.

Markford says he wants West Hernando to be "a school of character."

Each of the school's nine teams, three per grade level, select a characteristic such as loyalty, responsibility, courage or determination and will be responsible for activities during a week based on that theme.

The menagerie in the school's quad area, with its koi pond, reptile terrarium and aviaries, will live on, Markford said.

"It's like Lowry Park Zoo in there," he said.

Ray Pinder, Explorer K-8

Ray Pinder's new assignment is an exploration of his abilities as an elementary school administrator.

Pinder has had plenty of time with the preteens. The 40-year-old began his career as a teacher at West Hernando Middle. He took an assistant principal job there in 2003 and three years later headed to Fox Chapel Middle for his first principal post.

But at Explorer K-8, only about 600 of the 2,000 students are on the school's middle school side. And once again, the school is beyond capacity.

"Of course it's a challenge," Pinder said. "But I enjoy a challenge."

Explorer earned a B by state standards last year, but struggled to meet federal benchmarks in math and reading, mainly because of low-performing poor, Hispanic and disabled students.

Pinder said he's looking at the curriculum to take advantage of the continuity from grade to grade afforded by a K-8 school. And he echoed the strategies of his colleagues — honed lesson plans based on more detailed assessment data.

"The most important tool is the teacher in the classroom and making sure we're being effective in our instruction," Pinder said.

He acknowledges the bad feelings that brewed among teachers and staff when Alexander removed Sue Roth and Dana Pearce from their assistant principal positions last year, leaving Vivian Sweeney, the wife of School Board member John Sweeney, in her AP post. Some teachers said that smacked of nepotism.

Pinder's plan is to move forward with new assistant principals Barbara Kidder and Dianne Azzarelli — both of whom were appointed by Alexander from central office positions — and he has encouraged his staff of about 225 to do the same.

"What happened before, I have no control over. What's happening now, I can control," he said.

Pinder plans a new program of positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. Students doing the right thing will be rewarded with "paw prints," the school's currency, to purchase privileges ranging from extra recess to holding the title of "principal for an hour."

Students will hear Pinder's voice every morning as part of Project Wisdom, which tells the stories of prominent figures in history to set character-building examples.

His daily signoff: "Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours."

Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles, Fox Chapel Middle

Her last year at Nature Coast Technical High School was fraught with teacher scandals, student tragedies and disappointments, from the arrest of the band director for having sex with an underage student to the brawl that ended the football team's undefeated season.

Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles, Nature Coast's first principal, has called the 2008-09 year one of the toughest of her 30-year career.

About halfway through, Alexander called her to talk about a reassignment. Schoelles said she didn't need to stay at the high school level and didn't want to bump a counterpart at one of the district's three other high schools.

It was tough to leave, Schoelles admits. But the 51-year-old says she is happy at her new post at Fox Chapel in Spring Hill, where she will oversee a student body of about 750 students and roughly 80 staffers.

"For me, there's a tremendous opportunity for growth because I've never been in a Title I school before," Schoelles said. "There are lots of rules, regulations and expectations by the federal government attached to additional monies. It's a challenge to sink my teeth into."

Making sure students from needy families make learning gains is always a priority, and 68 percent of Fox Chapel's students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals last year.

But the annual yearly progress standards require every student to make gains, and Fox Chapel also needs to make sure that average and higher-performing students are doing well, Schoelles said.

"The faculty's beginning to get a grasp that we need to continue what we did for lower kids but have to change instruction for our average and above-average kids and invite them to higher levels of learning, too," she said.

Schoelles had a head start in feeling at home. She taught in the building as a new teacher 28 years ago, back when it was West Hernando Junior High. Her husband, Dave, now curriculum supervisor for the district, opened Fox Chapel in 1996 and left the principal post three years ago.

Schoelles said she is glad to have experienced lieutenants in assistant principals Royce Green and Pam Loder.

"There's a lot that's working here," she said. "I'm lucky to come to a school with policy and procedures that are so well in place."

Toni-Ann Noyes, Nature Coast Technical High

Toni-Ann Noyes calls her new job a homecoming.

After all, she served as an assistant principal at Nature Coast when it opened in 2003 and stayed until 2007, when she became principal at Eastside Elementary. She stayed there for a year before moving to the top job at West Hernando.

"It's great to be back," Noyes, 51, said Friday. "I've been accepted with open arms."

Hired a little more than a month ago after Sonya Jackson, Alexander's pick for Nature Coast, got the assistant superintendent job, Noyes was already behind schedule.

She has since powwowed with teachers and tapped a new athletic director. Earlier this week, she got another task from the School Board: Find room for more than 130 students currently on the school's waiting list.

"The faculty and staff have been very supportive in these times when we're not sure if we're getting extra students," Noyes said. "They're still smiling and haven't lost the fact that we're here to educate kids."

Nature Coast dropped from a B to a C by state assessment standards last year. Reading scores went down, and Noyes is encouraging a strategy that crosses curriculums to improve reading skills.

The key is communication among teachers, she said.

"So if a social studies or science teacher is having difficulty with a student's reading level, they'll feel comfortable going to the English teacher to see if they can help," she said.

Students have acknowledged that Nature Coast seems to attract vitriol from other schools that goes beyond the typical rivalries.

Noyes said she hopes to improve Nature Coast's image problem by encouraging students, and especially athletes, to focus on themselves.

"If we don't win our game but our perception has changed, then we've won the season," she said. "It's important that the community understands what we stand for, and we stand for family."

Tony Marrero can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.


Find information by phone and online

Students in Hernando County begin the 2009-10 school year Monday. And classrooms aren't the only places with inquiring minds. Parents also have questions.

Need to know something? The best place to start is your child's school. If you don't know the school's number, the district's main number is (352) 797-7000, and the operator can transfer you to a school.

The district's Web site — — is full of information.

Late buses are typically one of the biggest headaches. Transportation director Linda Smith predicts a relatively smooth year because there have been few route changes. Still, buses will inevitably run behind the first few days as school staffers, parents and students get used to the routine, Smith said.

"If the parents will be patient with us, we'll bring their babies home safe," she said.

Still, if there are questions, parents may contact the transportation department at (352) 797-7003.

New administrators

Elementary schools


John Shepherd, assistant principal


Dominick Ferello, principal

Middle schools

Fox Chapel

Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles, principal


Joy Greene, assistant principal

West Hernando

Rick Markford, principal

K-8 schools


Michael Maine, assistant principal


Ray Pinder, principal

Barbara Kidder and Dianne Azzarelli, assistant principals

High schools

Nature Coast Technical

Toni-Ann Noyes, principal

Jeff Yungmann, assistant principal


Gina Michalicka, assistant principal

Five Hernando County schools welcome new principals 08/22/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 1:19pm]
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