Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Hernando school official to pursue legal options after she said she was wrongfully let go

BROOKSVILLE — A former employee said she is pursuing legal options after the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday night approved the superintendent's recommendation to appoint another person as director of student services.

Mary-Grace Surrena, who had been with the district for more than 23 years, held that position for eight months before superintendent Bryan Blavatt decided not to reappoint her in May.

Blavatt said he offered Surrena a position as a school psychologist, a job she held in the past, but that she did not like the terms of the appointment.

Surrena had been groomed for years to take over the director position from Jim Knight, who retired last year.

On Tuesday, Knight spoke out against Surrena's being passed over in favor of Felita Lott, whom he said doesn't meet the job requirements.

Knight, a 21-year veteran of the job, said Surrena had received nothing but excellent or outstanding evaluations on the job.

"I have never known of one administrator in this district that was demoted in less than one year," he said. "Prior to tonight, all were given a year to improve or placed in a different school or in a similar position."

He called on the board to request an investigation. He also asked the School Board not to approve Lott's appointment, saying she does not have a required certification for the job.

"I'm asking you tonight to do what is right and what is fair for an employee who has given so much to Hernando County schools," he said.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the superintendent's recommendations for appointments.

Board members James Yant and Dianne Bonnfield voted against the recommendations. Bonnfield's vote against the recommendations was due to an unrelated issue involving a school principal who she said didn't follow district policy.

In a letter to the School Board and Blavatt, a lawyer for Surrena claims that her client was wrongfully not reappointed and was discriminated against because of her gender.

The letter states that Blavatt said Surrena was "too nice" for the position and that "there was a perception out there that she was too soft," according to the letter from attorney Karen Gaffney.

A similar letter from Gaffney was sent on behalf of Fox Chapel Middle School principal Barbara Kidder.

Kidder says she suffered from a number of instances of gender discrimination and a hostile work environment because of Blavatt. The letter claims Blavatt told numerous people he wanted a "male presence" at Fox Chapel Middle School.

Blavatt has denied he discriminated, noting that the person taking Surrena's job is a woman.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, he indirectly addressed the issue.

"You have to make hard decisions and decisions that are not going to be popular and viewed in different ways," he said. "Let me say to you that it is the most difficult part of my job to make decisions I know will impact individuals. But I will not stray from the mission."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

Comments
A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

The young man in a white jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, looked past the throng of reporters pointing microphones toward his face, barely opening his mouth as he answered questions."I shot through the door," he said, looking at a female repor...
Published: 04/21/18
After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

TAMPA — Confronted in late 2017 with reports of misconduct by substitute teachers hired through a contractor, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins said he would ask tough questions and demand answers. He had his lawyer, Jeff Gibson, ...
Published: 04/21/18
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Published: 04/20/18
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Published: 04/20/18
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Published: 04/20/18
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Every time I see an algebraic formula, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Landreth and Mrs. McBee flash through my mind.If you say history, I say Mr. Groot and Mrs. Melton. If you say civics, I say Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Hunt.I type using the "home keys" because Mrs....
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18