They're waiting for a principal at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, at Robinson High School in South Tampa, and in elementary schools as far north as Northdale's Claywell.
"I don't think that people understand that right now we're facing some really difficult times in filling principal positions," Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin said at Tuesday's board meeting as seven principal reassignments were announced.
But the solution, at least in the short term, creates its own challenges.
The district is embarking on Principal Pipeline, a grant-funded program that seeks to measure the impact of recruiting the most highly qualified and trained principal into every school.
The program relies largely on mentors, called principal coaches, who are promoted from within the ranks.
If it sounds a bit like the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers, that's no coincidence: The district's participation in the Gates experiment helped it land a five-year, $12.5 million Principal Pipeline grant from the New York-based Wallace Foundation.
The money will be used primarily for training and professional development. Separate grant funds will pay principal coaches. And the district will create a "future leaders academy" for rising administrators, said Lewis Brinson, assistant superintendent.
In recent months, seven of the district's best principals have been given coaching positions.
They include Laura Zavatkay, who oversaw Robinson's transformation into an International Baccalaureate school, and Christi Buell, who boosted both parent involvement and test scores at low-income Sulphur Springs Elementary.
The coaches remain at their old schools until they are replaced, Brinson said. And even after they are replaced, they are expected to stay close to assist the new principals.
Brinson said he has received no complaints, even in schools with principals that are enormously popular.
"Basically, what I tell parents is, 'I understand you like your principal and when you take someone from a school, it has maybe a negative impact,' " he said. " 'But as long as your child's teacher is there, I think you'll be okay.' "
Over the time of the grant, Brinson predicted the district will need to hire at least 75 principals, and that number does not include transfers.
Still, he said, the new system is worth the temporary stress of all that recruiting.
"With Principal Pipeline we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "It gives us a better way of predicting and charting our needs."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]