Brandon Kelley hopped off the school bus Wednesday morning and began his usual walk to his Moon Lake Elementary classroom when he stopped to take a second look at the red-headed woman cheerfully greeting children.
"Are you the new principal?" the fifth grader asked.
"I am," Elise Landahl replied, smiling.
Brandon pumped his fist and gave out a whoop. "I knew it!" he shouted, turning to a nearby friend. "Hey! That's our new principal! Say hi."
With that it was official. Moon Lake's newest principal — its fifth in one year — was in the house.
Students and staff couldn't have been happier.
"We just had a new one and now she's gone," third-grader Christian Gable said, referring to interim leader Cindy Harper, who stayed for six weeks. "I think (Landahl) will be a good principal."
Second-grade teacher Amberlie Haak stopped her lesson to make sure her students knew who Landahl was as she peeked her head into the classroom.
"This is our new principal," Haak said. "Our new permanent principal, which is a good thing."
Moon Lake has been trying with little luck to get someone to stay in charge for months.
The revolving door on the principal's office started turning after the 2008 FCAT ended and Donna Busby left to open Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel. Her first replacement, Susan Barcellino, didn't make it to the start of the 2008-09 school year. She moved back to Collier County.
Cara Allen came next, lasting until February before she moved to New Jersey. Harper followed, with plans to stay just until this year's FCAT testing finished.
Now it's Landahl's turn.
"We want to get it consistent now," said Landahl, most recently an assistant principal at Anclote Elementary, as she listened to the morning announcements in her new office, surrounded by welcoming balloons, flowers and cards.
Her goal for the remainder of the school year is to get to know the teachers, staff and students and to find out what they think the school does well and where it needs improvement. One thing she'll quickly learn is how resilient the school has become through its string of principals.
"We're very positive. Everybody works as a team," said media specialist Theresa Case. "We have had Iveta (Maska, the assistant principal) to turn to when we needed to."
Maska made sure that all the short-timers understood the school's philosophy and kept the mission consistent during a time of constant change.
As a result, reading specialist Valerie Burnett said, "I don't feel like there's been a roller coaster ride at all. We've had these changes. But it has been seamless."
At a school where so many kids come and go, and yesterday's problems are rarely today's, it is of no use to dwell on the past, Maska said. "It has to be game on for the kids. We can't get hung up on the fact that we're on principal number whatever."
Still, teachers, staff and students didn't hide their pleasure at finally having a leader who plans to stick around.
"We've done really well with the changes we've had," special education teacher Claudine French said. "But we're also looking forward to some consistency."
Visiting classrooms, Landahl encouraged everyone to stop by her office to bring her good news. Come read to me, she told the children.
"And be sure to introduce yourselves to me when you see me," she added.
The kids didn't wait to comply.
"I'm James," one boy shouted out, waving his hand. "I'm Jana," said a smiling girl. "I'm Zachary," added a classmate.
Landahl laughed as she headed for the door, classroom map in hand to avoid getting lost.
"I'm going to try to hit every (classroom)," she said. "It's exciting."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.