BROOKSVILLE — Central High School will soon have its new principal.
So, too, will three other Hernando schools.
Joe Clifford, currently principal at J.D. Floyd K-8 in Spring Hill, will take the empty seat at Central left by Dennis McGeehan, interim superintendent Sonya Jackson announced in an e-mail to district staffers Tuesday.
Jackson last month tapped McGeehan to lead the new, yet-to-be-named high school north of Weeki Wachee, which is set to open next fall.
Clifford, 58, is a veteran Hernando schools employee who started as a teacher in 1979. He has 14 years of experience as an assistant principal and principal.
His selection for Central created a chain reaction of administrative moves announced by Jackson.
Ray Pinder, in his first year as principal at Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill, will head to Floyd. John Stratton, in his first year at the STAR Education Center in Brooksville, takes the empty seat at Explorer.
Jackson did not announce who would take over at STAR and didn't return a call seeking comment Tuesday. "I'm confident in the leadership abilities of these principals to ensure a smooth transition," Jackson wrote in Tuesday's e-mail.
McGeehan will start in his new role on Jan. 4, so the other assignments also will take effect then, Jackson wrote.
Jackson's options for Central were somewhat limited.
The high school west of Brooksville did not make enough gains last year to keep from moving up to the next tier in the state's new differentiated accountability plan.
The plan is meant to marry federal and state accountability systems, and puts struggling schools in one of five tiers based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores. The higher the tier, the more intensive the strategies and requirements to help improve a school.
Central is on the "Correct II" tier. One of the strategies for schools on that level is to assign a principal who boasts "a clear record of turning around a similar school," according to the state rubric.
Clifford is among a handful of Hernando school administrators with such a record.
Under his tenure as principal from 2002 to 2007, West Hernando Middle School improved from a C to an A, holding the highest grade for the last three years.
Floyd, an A school when Clifford arrived last year, kept that grade and also made learning gains under federal standards.
Clifford said he will miss Floyd but is ready for the task ahead.
"I feel a certain sense of melancholy because I'm leaving, but at the same time I'm tinged with excitement and enthusiasm with what can be," he said.
Clifford, who also has worked as a guidance counselor at Floyd, Springstead High and Moton Elementary and as assistant principal at Powell Middle, said he plans to end his career at Central. He is enrolled in the state's deferred retirement program and will retire in three years.
"I have three years and my goal is to go out with Central on top," he said. "I believe that I will succeed and I believe Central will succeed."
Clifford called McGeehan a "phenomenal leader" and said he expects to find that the school is already on the right path to improvement.
"What I need to do is understand what they've done so far and if we need to redraw some things, we redraw them, and if we don't we just continue steady progress," he said.
McGeehan and Clifford's relationship goes back some three decades, when the two attended St. Leo University together.
"Joe's a good man," McGeehan said. "I think he'll be very successful. He's going to pick up a great staff, a great student body and a very supportive community."
McGeehan has decided to take two of his assistant principals at Central — Sue Lisk and Troy LaBarbara — to the new school. Clifford said he is asking Jackson to allow him to form a committee of Central teachers and parents to provide input on who will fill at least one of the assistant principal vacancies.
Pinder, 40, began his career as a teacher at West Hernando Middle. He took a job as assistant principal there in 2003 and three years later headed to Fox Chapel Middle for his first principal post.
In a letter to Floyd parents announcing his departure, Clifford calls Pinder "a competent, caring person who will challenge your children with enthusiasm, support them with fairness and compassion, while gently urging them to reach their highest potential."
Pinder did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The 43-year-old Stratton was by all accounts lauded as a perfect fit for STAR when picked for the position by then-superintendent Wayne Alexander.
Stratton spent 11 years at Citrus County's Crest School for physically and mentally disabled students, where he worked as a middle and high school teacher. He later worked as a behavioral and staffing specialist at the Renaissance Center, Citrus County's equivalent to STAR.
But Stratton also spent three years as an assistant principal at Challenger K-8 in Spring Hill. The floor plan at that school and the one at Explorer are an almost identical.
Like Clifford, Stratton says he has mixed emotions about leaving STAR.
"I'm certainly a little bit torn because of the love I have for the students here, but in the same breath I'm excited to return to the K-8 model and the opportunity and challenge ahead of me," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.