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Pinellas officials mum on ouster of Hopkins principal

ST. PETERSBURG — Students and staffers at John Hopkins Middle School got their first glimpse of a new principal Friday as district officials continued to investigate the previous one.

Veteran administrator Bob Poth took the reins of the popular arts and journalism magnet school, replacing Maureen C. Thornton, who was abruptly placed on paid administrative leave Thursday. Her secretary also was reassigned.

District officials say they are conducting an internal investigation of Thornton, 50, but would not provide details.

Asked why the principal was removed before the investigation was complete, superintendent Julie Janssen said the district was following its usual procedures. She added: "You don't just do it lightly. You have to have enough to warrant that."

Deputy superintendent Harry Brown said employees who are on paid leave are expected to keep working, so Thornton will be assigned to another job pending the investigation's outcome.

Investigators could interview her next week, he said. "She hasn't had her due process yet."

When contacted by the Times, several parents with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Thornton's departure declined to say for the record what they knew.

The investigation is being conducted by the district's Office of Professional Standards, which responds to allegations against district employees. Sometimes the office works with law enforcement, but St. Petersburg police said they had not been contacted regarding Thornton.

According to a Times check of Thornton's personnel file earlier this year, district supervisors had given her good evaluations. But she has been dogged by trouble in her personal life.

Her estranged husband was shot to death after killing five people in a St. Louis area shooting rampage in February, she has filed for bankruptcy, and lenders have foreclosed on a home she owns with in-laws.

Poth told the school's 1,300 students Friday that Thornton did not leave because she was ill. "I know that there's been a big change at John Hopkins. You guys are all bright kids; you read the newspapers," he said. "Mrs. Thornton is on leave."

Pinellas officials mum on ouster of Hopkins principal 12/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:38pm]
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