BROOKSVILLE — One of Hernando's veteran assistant principals, and a product of local schools, is taking the top spot at West Hernando Middle School.
Rick Markford, 48, would have returned for a second year as assistant principal at Challenger K-8 in Spring Hill this year. Instead, he will head to West Hernando, Superintendent Wayne Alexander said Tuesday.
"Rick possesses the instructional leadership skills necessary to work with a very committed and enthusiastic staff to meet the needs of the kids," Alexander said.
Alexander said he has high hopes for Markford's ability to help the school perform better by the federal No Child Left Behind standards.
Those standards require schools to continuously improve assessment scores — so-called adequately yearly progress, or AYP — and West Hernando has struggled in that regard. The school may face intervention by the state next year if it fails to make enough progress.
The school on Ken Austin Parkway between Central High and Pine Grove Elementary ended last year with an enrollment of about 1,030. Nearly one in four students were minorities last year, and 59 percent qualified for free and reduced meals.
Markford, who was assistant principal at Central High from 2000 to 2008, said he's looking forward to the challenge. "I need to be thinking, pure and simple, AYP," he said.
Markford was born in Philadelphia and moved to Hernando County in 1971, attending Westside Elementary and Brooksville Junior High (now the home of Parrott Middle). He was a member of Springstead High's first graduating class in 1979.
He earned a bachelor's degree in education from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., and started his career in 1983 as a fifth-grade teacher at Hillsboro Middle School.
Markford returned to Hernando in 1986, teaching fourth grade at Westside Elementary in Spring Hill. He taught physical education from 1987 to 2000 at John D. Floyd Elementary in Spring Hill and served as an assistant football coach at Springstead from 1986 to 1995.
He earned a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of South Florida in 1999 and then made the jump to administration, taking the job at Central.
He and his wife, Lorri, have three children, ages 19, 21 and 24.
Leaving Challenger is "bittersweet," Markford said, but the experience in the area of math and reading curriculum will help him in his new job. Challenger also had struggled to make gains in math and reading scores, but did make AYP this year.
"I'll take a tenth of the credit for that," Markford said with a smile, noting that he started a reading mentor program that paired struggling readers with a staff member.
Markford's new salary will be $82,965. His salary at Challenger was $69,650.
Alexander picked Markford over one other finalist, Susan May Strong, currently principal of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School in Lenox, Mass.
A search committee interviewed 11 candidates, including eight current assistant principals hoping to land their first principal job. Among them were Carmine Rufa and Lorna Lowe, assistant principals at West Hernando. The committee recommended Markford and Strong as finalists.
Alexander interviewed both Monday, but by Monday afternoon the job had been reposted on the school district's Web site, a sign that Alexander had decided to start the search process over.
But posting the job was "a precautionary measure in the event references don't check out," Alexander said Tuesday morning. A few hours later, he made the announcement that Markford had been selected.
Markford replaces Toni-Ann Noyes, who was hired last month for the principal's job at Nature Coast Technical High School.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.