TAMPA — Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has turned to a familiar face to take on one of the toughest challenges in the Hillsborough County schools.
On Tuesday she tapped Owen Young, the assistant principal for curriculum at Middleton High School, to assume the top job at the school. He will replace Carl Green, who was transferred this month to lead Brandon High.
Elia said the district could have named a veteran Hillsborough principal or chosen one from another state.
"We could have done that, but we thought we had a good match," she said, citing Young's experience in curriculum and familiarity with the school.
Young, 38, will have his work cut out for him. This spring Middleton earned its sixth straight D grade under the state's accountability system, and remains on the bottom rung of a state watch list. Failure to make quick improvements could lead to a state-mandated takeover or closure.
It was just a year ago that Young started work at Middleton after three years in the assistant's role at King High. He previously served as an administrator, guidance counselor and teacher in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
But Elia said he has forged strong bonds with students and teachers at Middleton, helping it achieve a 10 point gain in FCAT reading scores among its lowest-achieving students.
"We made progress, we just didn't make quite enough," she said. "We want to keep that going, and we think he has the experience to do that."
There's also pressure to bring Middleton High back to its former glory. The school produced generations of black leaders before its 1971 closure under a federal desegregation order.
But alumni leader Fred Hearns said Young's academic focus and professionalism have earned him broad support.
"We're ecstatic right now," he said. "He's got a lot of people skills. The district, they're putting the resources there, they're putting good people there. And hopefully that will rub off on the kids."
Young, who grew up in Tampa, said he would focus on bringing teachers together as a cohesive, results-oriented team.
"It's about believing in people and building relationships," he said, praising Green's work in that area. "It's about being clear and precise about best instructional practices."
In other action Tuesday, the School Board voted 4-2 to terminate the license of Re-Birth Academy, a charter school.
Around 60 parents, teachers and supporters turned out in support of the school, and members Susan Valdes and Doretha Edgecomb opposed the district's recommendation to close it due to poor academic performance.
But Elia said Re-Birth students were in jeopardy after the school earned two D grades and, this year, an F.
"We have to have accountability for the work academically that is done in those schools, in all of our charters," she said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.