NEW PORT RICHEY — Steve Knobl didn't apply to become Gulf High School's new principal.
He didn't even know the job was coming open.
But when superintendent Heather Fiorentino approached him this spring about the opportunity, Knobl wasn't about to say no. It fit right into his plans.
"My career goal is to be a superintendent," said Knobl, 36.
And being a high school principal falls on that path.
"So when I had a conversation with the superintendent's staff about whether to come to Gulf High, I had no reservations at all," he said, even though he had been leading Bayonet Point Middle for less than two years. "I felt like the job I did at Bayonet Point warranted me being considered for something like this."
During his career as a teacher and administrator, Knobl, who lives in the Oakstead subdivision with his wife and two sons, has gained a reputation as a high-energy leader who cares about students and staff members.
"He enjoys all the aspects of the school, from the curriculum to the kids to the activities," said assistant superintendent Tina Tiede, who hired Knobl as a teacher at River Ridge High. "He has a great personality for the schools."
From early on, leaders expected big things of him. Former superintendent John Long counted Knobl among the administration's "young Turks" destined to see success on a large scale.
Knobl almost didn't head down that path, though.
Fresh out of high school, the New Yorker planned to play baseball for Saint Leo University and eventually become a gym teacher and coach.
"Looking back, I'm glad there was a teacher shortage at the time," Knobl recalled. "My adviser said, 'You don't want to go into P.E. There's no jobs. You should got into elementary ed. You'll get a job right away.'"
He took a position teaching fourth grade at Richey Elementary soon after graduating from the University of Central Florida. The rest, he says, is history.
On the job at Gulf High just seven weeks, Knobl already has taken several steps to change the school. He's not focusing too much on the academic side at first, noting the school moved from a D grade to within four points of a B this year.
"There's a lot of hardworking people here," Knobl said, stating his goal to reach an A within five years.
Rather, he said, the key task at hand is improving the Gulf's image. Too many people inside the 85-year-old school and out don't see the same level of pride in it that Gulf once had.
"It's really important for the students," Knobl said.
He immediately began meeting with staff members individually, as well as with student leadership groups, to give them a greater voice in the school's future. They jointly created a slogan for the year — "anchored in excellence, united in pride" — and have begun making plans to walk the walk.
Other initiatives in the works include a mentoring program for freshmen, an increase in Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses, additional senior privileges such as early dismissal, and extra parking spaces.
"I'm a big believer that there's nothing wrong with loosening the lines a little bit to see if they surprise you," Knobl said, adding that he also planned to survey students regularly to see what kinds of things they want from their school.
In his short tenure, Knobl also has worked to resolve teacher morale issues, including getting past the grievances filed against his predecessor, Tom Imerson. He is reaching out to alumni and community members as well to get their support for the school.
The goal, he said, is simple. When people talk about Gulf High, their comment should include the words, "That's a great school."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.