TAMPA — Alumni are coming, as well as parents and teachers. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia will be there, too.
But one official will be notably absent when the Hillsborough County schools hold a community meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. on the future of historic Middleton High.
The school's principal.
A day after Elia reassigned principal Carl Green to run Brandon High after two years of leading Middleton, members of the school's vocal alumni association on Wednesday were still digesting the news and debating what should happen next.
"The fresh start is going to help," said alumni association president Calvin Simmons. "It is going to get rid of many of those people who say we need a new principal. What they may have meant is we need a new principal style."
Some alumni, including Simmons, were quick to praise Green's efforts at Middleton, which has struggled to lift itself off the bottom rung of a state watch list based on test scores.
This spring, the school showed strong improvement in reading among its lowest-scoring students, but nevertheless earned its sixth straight D grade from the state. Without marked progress this year, the school could face a state-directed reorganization or closure.
"Some progress isn't measurable by numbers," said alumna and School Board member Doretha Edgecomb. "And the lowest quartile of students made tremendous progress at Middleton. We ought to be celebrating."
Once segregated, Middleton produced generations of black leaders in east Tampa before being closed in 1971 under a court desegregation order. Alumni pushed to reopen the school seven years ago.
But those supporters have found that the challenges of running an urban high school in the 21st century — amid strict state accountability standards, a worsening economy and stark pressures facing working families — are dramatically different from what they were in the 1960s and '70s.
And the community bears much of the responsibility for making the school work, said 1966 graduate Fred Hearns, a longtime alumni leader.
"That's what made the old Middleton so great," he said. "Parents felt like they were being heard, and that's important."
Hearns said many people and organizations that tried to help the school in recent years felt ignored. The school also failed to enlist sufficient support from coaches, parents and the district to force struggling students to attend after-school tutoring programs, he said.
"Nobody's making the kids get their priorities in order," he said. "You had kids wandering around campus who needed help with their math or reading, and in some cases, tutors were sitting in empty classrooms after 3 p.m."
Simmons said Green did a good job of instilling order and making students feel at home on campus. But the next principal needs to inspire good teachers to stay at the school and work with a common purpose, he said.
Superintendent Elia said the district would advertise for applicants to lead Middleton. They plan to fill the post by the start of the school year.
Whoever gets the job will be supported by a new assistant principal for magnet curriculum. George Fekete, who opted to step down as principal at Gaither High to focus on curriculum issues, will swap positions with Middleton assistant principal Marie Whelan.
Elia said the meeting Saturday would focus on building on Middleton's achievements. She pointed to Sulphur Springs Elementary, which raised its state grade from F to B this spring, as an example of the progress Middleton can make.
"Partnerships in the community were critical there," Elia said earlier this week. "We hope the Middleton alumni and people in the community will come forward and support the kind of efforts we need at that school."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.