Saturday, June 23, 2018
Education

Grego announces principal changes at struggling schools

LARGO — Charged by the state with turning around five struggling schools in Pinellas County, superintendent Mike Grego announced Tuesday that he would replace principals at three schools and keep the leaders at two others.

Of three F-rated schools on the list, only one — Melrose Elementary — will get a new principal. So will two D-rated schools, Fairmount Park Elementary and Pinellas Park Middle. The moves are effective June 10.

Maximo Elementary and Azalea Middle, both F-rated schools, will continue under their current leadership. In both cases, Grego said the principals were a good fit for the schools.

Grego, who announced the changes at a School Board meeting, also named a new deputy superintendent and associate superintendent. He promoted William Corbett to deputy from area superintendent. He also hired Lori Matway as associate superintendent of student and community support services. Matway came from the mayor's office in St. Petersburg.

The School Board approved the staffing moves Tuesday with little discussion.

But Pinellas could face scrutiny for the principal appointments from the state Board of Education, which must sign off on district turnaround plans. State rules for the process are straightforward — any school that earns an F or three straight Ds is required to replace its principal, if the administrator has been there for more than a year.

Principal Randi Latzke has been at Maximo for about two years, as has principal Connie Kolosey at Azalea Middle.

To replace the principal in a turnaround school, the district must conduct a "comprehensive search" for an individual with a "clear record of turning around a similar school," the rules say.

Yet Pinellas County Schools didn't advertise the positions. Grego made the announcement one week after submitting plans to the state. And all of the principals appointed Tuesday were internal candidates.

Joe Follick, spokesman for the state Department of Education, told the Tampa Bay Times last week that posting a principal job advertisement for a few days — as Pasco County Schools did with its turnaround school, Lacoochee Elementary — was not a thorough search. He also said if a school needed a turnaround plan "one of the first places a district should be looking is to replace leadership at the school."

On Tuesday, when asked about Pinellas, he said it was "hard to judge it midstream." Ultimately, it's the state board's call whether to approve, he said.

State officials "need to give the district enough time to do their work before making those decisions," Cheryl Etters, a DOE spokeswoman, wrote in a subsequent email.

In some ways, the appointments amount to a chair shuffling among Pinellas principals, much like what could happen in any year. Except principals at the turnaround schools will earn a $5,000 recruitment bonus and will have the chance to earn another $2,000 "schoolwide improvement bonus."

Christine Porter will go to Orange Grove Elementary from Melrose, while Orange Grove's principal, Nanette Grasso, will take Porter's place at Melrose. Cooper Dawson will move to North Shore Elementary from Fairmount Park Elementary. North Shore's principal is retiring. Nina Pollauf, principal of Northwest Elementary, will take over for Dawson at Fairmount Park.

David Rosenberger, principal of Clearwater Fundamental Middle, will move to Pinellas Park Middle. Grego said Tuesday that the principal job at Clearwater Fundamental will be advertised publicly. Robyn Witcher, principal of Pinellas Park Middle, expressed an interest in applying for other positions in the district, Grego said.

He said he valued Witcher's leadership and would find a place for her.

Of his choices, Grego said, "I believe they have the track record and ability to really move (the schools) to another level."

Grego said that while the district didn't advertise the positions outside the organization, it did "search outside." He said he personally interviewed each principal twice, as well as consulting with area superintendents and others. He said he was looking for principals with experience, and a "following," or the ability to attract high-quality teachers to their schools.

He also reviewed climate surveys. The results aren't a perfect reflection of what's going on in a school, he said, but "it's another piece of the puzzle." But Grego said in many ways the interview process starts when he visits the schools, as he did with each of the five.

"When is there a day when I'm not, I wouldn't call it interviewing, but observing?" he asked.

Rosenberger, who will leave Clearwater Fundamental Middle after 11 years, seven of those as principal, said he had "incredibly mixed emotions." He said he wasn't looking for a change, but was honored and excited to have been selected as principal for Pinellas Park Middle.

He said he broke the news to his current faculty after school Tuesday, and a letter was sent to parents.

Rosenberger doesn't fit the state's model for having a "clear record of turning around a similar school." But he said about a third of his career — as a teacher and a guidance counselor — was spent in drop-out prevention programs and working with at-risk students. In some ways, he said he views that as an advantage because he knows what it's like to be in classrooms with struggling or high-need students.

"I'm not out to punish anyone. I'm not out to turn anything inside out," he said.

He also went through the consolidation of Coachman Fundamental Middle and Kennedy Middle several years ago, when Clearwater Fundamental opened and teachers had to reapply for their jobs. "There was a lot of fear of the unknown," he said.

Board member Rene Flowers, who spoke briefly at the end of the meeting Tuesday, said she understood that such changes could cause angst in the community. But she said the moves shouldn't be viewed as an "indictment" of principals.

"It is not a loss for that person. It is an opportunity for that person," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

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