NEW TAMPA — When Pride Elementary students go back to school next month, they will have a new leader. • In June, the Hillsborough County School Board picked Cindy Land, previously the assistant principal at Chiles Elementary, to succeed Jamie Johnson, who moved out of state. • The 38-year-old Pebble Creek resident takes over a school shrouded in controversy last year after Johnson allowed a 160-foot cell tower on the campus without public notice. • The episode strained relations between administrators and parents. Some threatened to pull their children out of Pride. • Land said she can't do much about the past, but believes all stakeholders should be at the table before any major decisions. She wants to hear from those stakeholders at 2 p.m. Aug. 24 in the school cafeteria. Until then, pull up a seat for the St. Petersburg Times' conversation with Land.
Tell us a little about Cindy Land.
I'm a little of everything. I am a first-generation United States citizen. My mom is from Honduras and my father is from Colombia. My first language was Spanish. It surprises people because you speak pretty good English and you start speaking Spanish mid-sentence. People go, 'Where are you from?' I have two older brothers. I'm the baby of three. From probably second grade, I knew I wanted to be an educator. I didn't know how far I wanted to go at that point, but I knew that was me. I want to get down and do whatever it takes to help my students succeed. That's what I'm here for — to serve.
What was your first order of business when you arrived at Pride in June?
Call every single employee that I have — instructional, noninstructional, custodial staff, my assistant principal — and introduce myself to them. I let them know anything they need, I'm here and I'm ready to hit the ground running with them. We're a team and we're going to do a great job for our kids and our community.
Have you had a chance to meet any parents and students?
I've met with the PTA president. I've met a lot of kids that have come in to get their FCAT scores with their parents. Some children have attended preschool with my oldest son. I feel like this is home and I'm here to stay.
What are their desires for the school?
The biggest thing I've heard through the community is to continue on the path of success. (Pride has received an A every year since the school opened in 2001.) They've really been expressive about that. They are very pleased that I'm from New Tampa and that I've worked with New Tampa parents and community members. They really want to continue the forward motion that we've had the past eight years.
How do you plan to repair relations between parents and administrators after last year's cell tower uproar?
There's not really a whole lot I can do about anything that happened before I was here. Jamie is an amazing principal, very successful. I hope to carry that forward. As far as getting the parents involved, I will make every effort to invite those parents in and meet with those parents if they would like to meet with me. I like the school community to help me make any major decision, of course with the support of the School Board. No door will be closed in anyone's face because of a suggestion made. We will work as a school and as a community to come up with the best options to move us forward.
What traditions do you hope to start at Pride?
Successful schools such as Pride have parents involved in every aspect of the school. I want parents involved in every after-school program, during the school day with volunteering in the classrooms, any literacy nights. I want the community to feel a part of the school.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5303.