Friday, February 23, 2018
Education

Troubled Lacoochee Elementary gets a new principal

After weeks of careful consideration, Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning has decided to install a new principal at struggling Lacoochee Elementary School.

He picked a Lacoochee native who wasn't even aware she was qualified for the job.

Latoya Jordan, assistant principal at nearby Cox Elementary School for six years, will become Lacoochee's next leader. Jordan, 38, attended Lacoochee and once lived in the housing project next door to it. But she figured the post would go to an experienced principal with a record of turning around low-performing schools.

"I welcome the challenge and look forward to it," Jordan said Wednesday. "That's where my heart is."

Browning said her role in improving student performance at Cox, which once operated under federal school restructuring rules, met the state guidelines and his expectations.

"Latoya is a talented young woman," he said. "She is from that community. She gets it."

Shirley Ray, who headed Lacoochee since 2010, will become principal at Seven Oaks Elementary School, where she served as assistant principal for four years.

"It's the right thing to do," Browning said after telling both principals of their new assignments. "Shirley is a great principal, but we needed to have a fresh approach."

The change came two months after Browning required all Lacoochee's instructional staff, including administrators, to reapply for their jobs as part of a state-required turnaround plan. State rules say a school that earns three consecutive D grades, or two straight F's, must restaff.

Principals in those cases would be replaced, except under extenuating circumstances.

But Browning, who chafed at having the state mandate the terms of a district-managed turnaround, hesitated to displace Ray, who was the only person to apply for the position when it was advertised. He heaped praise upon her leadership skills in the face of a tough job.

But with state officials making increasing noise about the need to get rid of principals at persistently low-performing schools, Browning budged. He said no state officials made demands, though.

He noted that Jordan had served on the committee that helped select Lacoochee's new teachers, and she has a track record assisting with improving academic performance at Cox.

"I think they made a very good choice," Cox principal Yvonne Reins said. "I think that she will do the best she can for that school and the community will really love her."

Browning stressed that he had high confidence in Ray, which made his decision to move her to A-rated suburban Seven Oaks an easy one.

"Shirley is one of the few, if not only, principals we have in this district that can principal those two types of communities," he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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