MOON LAKE — A team of teachers streamed out of Susan Barcellino's office as a secretary peeked in to let the principal know that a mom was waiting to talk about her son's behavior.
Barcellino stepped out to usher the parent and child in, but not before getting a cheery "Hi, Dr. B!" from a girl passing through to deliver some papers for her teacher.
Barcellino had led Moon Lake Elementary just four days, and lived on the North Suncoast just two weeks, and already she felt right at home.
"I feel like I've been here forever," said Barcellino, 48, who led A-rated Lake Park Elementary in Naples through March, before moving to the Pasco school system and a home in Hernando Beach.
Her easy transition speaks to the reasoning behind superintendent Heather Fiorentino's decision to break with tradition in hiring her. As a general rule, Pasco superintendents don't hire principals from outside the district.
"You want to keep the culture of the district," Fiorentino explained, noting that most outsiders get assigned to assistant principal jobs before moving up to lead a school.
But over a series of interviews, Barcellino "seemed to have the right personality to blend right in," Fiorentino said. Plus, the district has used up much of its administrative pool while filling leadership posts at its new schools.
So Barcellino got the nod.
And so far, the school is impressed. Folks use words like "fabulous" to describe the woman who claims to never have a bad day.
"We are so excited," media specialist Theresa Case said. "She seems very nice, very easy to talk to, very open."
And Case admitted she had been preparing for the worst.
"When I heard Donna (Busby) was leaving, I was like, 'I'm out of here if it's not someone I can work with,' " she said, adding that she checked out the Lake Park Elementary Web site as soon as she learned Barcellino's name and where she was coming from.
Case decided to stay.
Barcellino acknowledged she was nervous about coming in from the outside, knowing the district's traditions. So the warm welcome — especially in light of Busby's successes with Moon Lake — chased any worries away.
"Am I worried? No," she said on the Thursday before spring break. "I want to do things the Pasco way and yet bring my own fresh eyes" to the school's needs.
Not that she sees many immediate demands. Moon Lake regularly has performed well on state measures — it earned an A in last year's FCAT results and B's the two years before that — and Barcellino called it a "well-oiled machine." Rather, she aims to review different programs, meet with teachers and staff, and review this year's FCAT scores before making any decisions for the future.
That doesn't mean she comes without ideas.
"One of the things I'd really like to work on is parent involvement," Barcellino said. "I want school to be seen by parents and students as a great place to be."
Her involvement in her own sons' school in Pennsylvania prompted Barcellino to become an educator.
She had stayed at home to raise her children instead of going to college. As a parent volunteer, she became fascinated by what she saw in the classroom, so "I just decided to pursue furthering my education."
At age 28, Barcellino took her first college class and fell in love with learning. She now has three degrees, has served as a school administrator for seven years and has taught educational leadership courses at two universities.
"I consider myself a teachers' principal," she said. "I'm here to support them and keep them happy, so in turn the children are happy."
It's that cheer that keeps Barcellino coming back for 10-hour days.
"You go to a classroom and look into the eyes of a child, and that makes it all worthwhile," she said.
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.