LAND O'LAKES — The rapid turnover of principals at Moon Lake Elementary School is about to come to an end.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino has tapped retired principal Cindy Harper to run the school for five weeks leading up to the FCAT, and Anclote Elementary assistant principal Elise Landahl to take over permanently after the testing.
Harper then will move to Centennial Elementary, where she'll replace Scott Mitchell, who will open the new Watergrass Elementary next year.
Fiorentino said she would have preferred to move Landahl and Mitchell directly into their new positions. She does not like to disrupt elementary schools in the weeks leading up to the FCAT though, so Landahl will stay at Anclote until afterward.
Moon Lake needs a principal sooner because Cara Allen's last day is Feb. 13. So Harper, who left the district in 2007, will run the school on an interim basis.
"We'll make it as smooth as we can," said Harper, who has worked with intern teachers at Saint Leo University since her retirement. "It will be fine."
The superintendent has fielded some community concerns that she hired Harper from outside the district despite having imposed a hiring freeze to save money. That freeze has been lifted only on a case-by-case basis.
Fiorentino acknowledged having a strong group of internal candidates.
"We had great interviews," she said. "But when we're looking at hiring a principal, we have to look at a lot of things, and it's not just finances. I am picking the best person to meet the needs of the school."
Harper, 56, first joined the school district as a teacher in 1974. She took her first principal job in 1980 at Richey Fundamental. She left the district in 1984, returning in 1995 as an assistant principal at Pasco Elementary. By 1998, she was a principal again, first at Sanders Elementary and then at Wesley Chapel Elementary.
She retired from that job after five years to spend time on family matters, but she never strayed from education. In addition to her work with Saint Leo, Harper also served on the district restructuring committee.
"It's so strange," she said. "I guess once it gets into your blood, it's there."
The first week of this school year found Harper, who lives in Dade City, volunteering at Pasco Elementary.
"About Wednesday, I started thinking, 'Hmmm, I kind of miss this stuff,' " she said.
The rest is history. She'll be visiting Centennial Elementary to meet the staff on Monday.
That same day, Landahl, 36, will make her way to Moon Lake for her first face-to-face meeting with the teachers and other employees.
She said her first order of business "is really getting to know the staff and getting to know where they are as a school." That includes letting them know she plans to stick around for a while.
Moon Lake has gone through four principals in the past year.
Landahl, who joined the district in 1996 as a Richey Elementary teacher, said she looks forward to being there.
She said that "there may be challenges, but it has a lot of wonderful teachers."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.