LUTZ — Shaylia McRae-Hall grew up surrounded by educators — aunts, uncles, cousins and her well-known grandparents, the first African-American professors at the University of South Florida.
So it's no surprise that she grew up to be an educator. What may be surprising to some is the fact that as principal of Martinez Middle School, she's younger than many of her teachers and parents.
McRae-Hall, 31, of Riverview, is the youngest principal in Hills-borough County.
Her meteoric rise began in high school at King, where, with the help of dual enrollment, she entered college with 18 credits. She attended the University of Florida for one year and transferred to USF, where she graduated after two years.
McRae-Hall taught at Franklin Middle and Plant High schools, where she sponsored clubs and coached track.
After her second year of teaching, she finished her master's program in 11 months. At 23, she decided to interview for an assistant principal job at Martinez "just to put my skills in action."
"I didn't think I was going to get hired at all right away because I was so young," she said.
Hers was one of the last interviews of the day. She landed the job.
Two years ago, McRae-Hall was named principal at Marshall. She now returns to Martinez as principal.
"We're No. 1 in the county for middle schools, and we're one of two schools that received the highest scores for FCAT Writes.
"We're at the top and we're doing well," she said. "The bad thing is, once you're on top, where do you go from there?"
So this year, they're defining clear goals for the entire school, she said.
McRae-Hall combines fun with learning, and her style is reflected in her laugh — easygoing, friendly and infectious.
She roams the halls and high-fives her students. She peeks into classrooms, not to evaluate the teachers, but to be involved. She sometimes will take over and teach a little, too.
This mother of a 7-month-old son wants her students to trust her, respect her and talk to her.
"If there's going to be something that happens on my campus, good or bad, I'm going to know about it before it even hits the fan," she said.
McRae-Hall is the granddaughter of Richard F. Pride, an educator with a school named for him in New Tampa.
Her job comes with a long commute from Riverview.
"It's 100 miles round trip," she said. "But it's worth it."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.