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Northeast High students and staff want principal to stay

Carol Cook, vice chairwoman of Pinellas County School Board, talks Tuesday with Northeast High students and staffers.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Carol Cook, vice chairwoman of Pinellas County School Board, talks Tuesday with Northeast High students and staffers.

On paper, it's a done deal: Northeast High principal Kevin Hendrick is going to Boca Ciega High this fall.

But folks at Northeast High aren't letting him go without a fight.

About 20 sign-waving teachers, students and former students showed up at Pinellas school district headquarters Tuesday to plead their case. They said after two years leading the school, Hendrick deserves a chance to continue making progress at Northeast, which rose to a C grade last year after two years as a D.

They also said the school deserves strong, consistent leadership after four principals in six years.

"I have not seen a graduating class with the same principal from start to finish," said English teacher Tena Fajardo.

But can the decision, approved by the board last week, really be undone?

"We're not going to stop until we do," said physics teacher Felix McCauley, who heads the school's academically advanced Todd Center.

Because board members on Tuesday were in a workshop — a meeting at which no public comment is taken — the supporters looked on for hours without speaking. One student, 2010 salutatorian Daniel Kroepsch, stood silently for hours without a chair.

At the end of the day, superintendent Julie Janssen turned her attention to the group and explained her feeling that Hendrick is "an up-and-coming star."

"Mr. Hendrick is a wonderful man and a wonderful principal," Janssen said. "Mr. Hendrick wants to move up in the district. He knows that if he stays in one place, the chances of that happening is delayed. … He has to look out for his professional career."

Michelle Dudley, a Northeast social studies teacher, listened but vowed the community will not end its pleas. "It's a bigger picture than just Mr. Hendrick," she said, counting on her fingers the principals she's seen come and go in her 25 years at the school. "With him, we had a principal who had ambition for Northeast High School."

Hendrick is trading places with former Boca Ciega principal Paula Nelson in a decision made last week after Janssen got word Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results showed little movement among Boca students.

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday, Hendrick said that the move came as a surprise. And while he was disappointed to leave behind the work he'd done at Northeast in his first post as principal, he was willing to go when asked.

"I had not asked to be moved, but I'm respectful of the superintendent's position," he said.

Hendrick on Tuesday sent an automated phone call message to Northeast's faculty and staff thanking them for their show of confidence, but asking them to look ahead and welcome Nelson.

"I would like for you to consider that NEHI's (an abbreviation for Northeast High) true greatness resides in the staff as a whole, not in one individual," the message said, according to an e-mailed transcript. "I believe you do yourselves an injustice to suggest that my departure will negatively impact NEHI because it is you who deserves the credit."

Unbowed, Hendrick supporters continued to garner support. They started a "Keep Mr. Hendrick at Northeast" Facebook page, which had 612 fans by Tuesday night.

They are planning a vigil, and more letters to board members. Whatever it takes to try to get their principal back.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect name for Michelle Dudley.

Northeast High students and staff want principal to stay 07/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 11:24am]
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