Sunday, June 24, 2018
Education

Longleaf principal departs as Pasco schools play musical chairs

TRINITY — Arlene Bodden had a simple rule as principal of Longleaf Elementary School: No crying allowed.

"It applies to me leaving, too," said Bodden, who has led the school since it opened eight years ago.

To avoid tears, Bodden held off revealing her decision to retire in August, a year earlier than planned.

"I waited until my students were all gone, and then I waited until my staff was all gone. Then I made the call," she said. "I don't do goodbyes very well."

Bodden's surprise departure left room for yet another change in the Pasco school district administration that has seen significant turnover since superintendent Kurt Browning took office in November.

Browning has promoted four principals to district-level jobs, appointed new leaders in 20 percent of the schools and shuffled several department heads amid a reorganization. For the June 18 School Board meeting, the administration has reappointed most sitting administrators to their roles.

But additional changes are likely, assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said.

"We still have not interviewed for all the open positions," Larson said. "There will be more moves."

Five elementary schools have principal vacancies, and the district has a handful of top jobs including one learning community executive director spot. Larson expected that the people filling those slots will create additional shifts in the ranks.

For the time being, the latest round of changes proposed by the superintendent's office focuses on assistant principals.

Longtime Sunlake High assistant principal Deborah Lepley, who accused former principal Garry Walthall of discrimination, was not reappointed to any leadership post. District curriculum supervisor Lori Wiggins was named to a newly created position of eSchool assistant principal. And elementary guidance counselor supervisor Stacey Brazier was appointed to an assistant principal job at John Long Middle School.

Sunlake and Fivay high schools, both under scrutiny for their performance, will get two new assistant principals. And a handful of elementary assistant principals will swap schools.

"Assistant principals need different experiences," Larson said.

Larson said she hopes to convince Bodden not to leave just yet. She praised Bodden's ideas for A-rated Longleaf, particularly relating to an arts-centered curriculum, and wanted her to guide the concept forward.

"But I understand where she's coming from," Larson said.

Bodden, 58, has a retired husband, seven grandkids and an RV waiting to take her on travels around the country. "The motor is running," she said.

So after 36 years with Pasco schools, Bodden decided the time had come to think about other things in life than school.

"I'm one of those fortunate people who has been able to do what I was meant to do," she said. "Now it's time for us to do some playing while we're still young enough."

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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