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Reported ouster of Tarpon High assistant principal rallies parents, students to his side

TARPON SPRINGS — A popular Tarpon Springs High School assistant principal will lose his job next month, sparking outrage from students and parents.

Wayne McKnight, who worked at the school for about a decade, was told his annual contract would not be renewed and that his last day was June 25.

The Pinellas County school district would not give a reason. Messages left for principal Clint Herbic were not returned.

McKnight was told he could apply for a similar position at other Pinellas County schools, he said. He is speaking with an attorney.

"I'm extremely upset and I'm extremely emotional," McKnight said Tuesday. "I am disappointed to leave a school and a community that I adore."

McKnight, 51, served as Tarpon's assistant principal for activities and had worked more than 10 seasons as the school's athletic director.

He was a constant presence in the school's halls and on its sporting fields, and was known for his friendliness with students of every class.

"He is at every single sports event, band, choir, culinary," said Tarpon senior Katie Badger. "He lives at the school. It's his second home. It's really sad to see someone who cares about his job not be able to come back."

McKnight transferred to Tarpon from East Lake High School in 2003, where he had worked as an athletic director for about two years. He began working with the county schools in the late 1980s as an English teacher at Gibbs High School. Between 1987 and 1996, he also wrote sports stories as a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times.

Word of McKnight's departure exploded across Facebook, where more than 2,300 people joined a group called, "Keep Mr. Mc­Knight at Tarpon High."

On the group's wall, one girl wrote, "He has put hundreds of hours into our program, and I just don't think he should be lost without a fight."

Rumors also spread about an unannounced cause for the split, which some blamed on personal tension and power clashes between principal Herbic and McKnight.

One woman told the Times a group of parents would host a meeting Wednesday night to rally support for McKnight, while others sounded a call to send messages of support to the school district.

Superintendent John Stewart had a meeting scheduled with McKnight for this morning.

During McKnight's tenure at Tarpon High, he met individually with hundreds of lower-performing students to prepare them for the FCAT. He also chaperoned students to Indianapolis for a national band competition.

"He's one of the most personable, understanding, honest members of the administrative staff, and he loves his job," one student wrote on Facebook. "Dude deserves to keep it."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Reported ouster of Tarpon High assistant principal rallies parents, students to his side 05/29/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 7:58pm]
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