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Rocky tenure behind Deanna DeCubellis' departure as Cypress Elementary principal

NEW PORT RICHEY — According to her official file, Deanna DeCubellis had accepted a simple transfer.

She would leave her post as principal of Cypress Elementary to become a principal on assignment in the curriculum department. Right away.

Her evaluations indicated nothing amiss. The School Board paperwork for the transfer last month stated simply that DeCubellis "is qualified."

But public records not included in her personnel file offered a much different story behind the new assignment.

A folder in assistant superintendent Dave Scanga's desk includes letters of complaint from staff and parents dating to August 2010, as well as comments from a January staff climate survey.

It also held notes from Scanga's visits to the school and meetings with United School Employees of Pasco leaders, as well as DeCubellis herself.

All signs pointed to a school slipping under new leadership.

Staffers reported that DeCubellis had disbanded many committees created to improve the school, not completed required safety drills, even taken the door off the teachers' lounge to stifle conversation.

"If Mrs. DeCubellis stays for next year, I will be one of many looking for work at other schools," one teacher wrote. "I used to love my job and now it is a daily struggle to come to work."

Others wrote of DeCubellis' "volun-told" policy, in which staff members were told to volunteer for nonrequired work after hours. They worried that DeCubellis, who moved from Calusa Elementary in 2010 to give Cypress Elementary a new direction, was headed down the wrong path.

"Cypress is presently in a state of chaos," one teacher wrote to Scanga in December.

Parents and volunteers also complained about the drastic changes to the school culture.

"When she came there she destroyed the interrelationships of teachers, staff and volunteers," former volunteer Christina Ennist told the Times. "She was rude, intimidating, callous to all. It upset me enough to protest outside the school."

Scanga verified many of the complaints and gave DeCubellis clear direction: Make it better.

"Building trust with the faculty and staff is of paramount importance," he wrote in a Jan. 17 letter.

From a meeting the following day, notes indicate that DeCubellis told Scanga some Cypress staff members might be trying to sabotage her. She had been an administrator since 1999, she said, and had never seen anything like this.

Scanga's reported response: She may have been doing this a long time, but she's not getting things done that she should know need doing. Leadership is her responsibility, Scanga told DeCubellis.

"The superintendent wants it turned around quickly," Scanga said, according to the notes.

Three months later, and just two weeks after her first anniversary at Cypress, DeCubellis no longer worked there.

Longtime assistant principal George Papaemanuel became lead administrator.

Neither DeCubellis nor superintendent Heather Fiorentino responded to requests for comment for this story. District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said she saw no need to air the specifics.

The system, she said, worked.

On that point, United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb agreed.

"We felt like the issues we brought were taken seriously," Webb said. "Removing the principal seemed appropriate."

Even School Board members didn't know all the details behind the transfer. "I was just told there were ongoing issues," vice chairman Allen Altman said. "That she had some skills, but they weren't in the right place."

Gov. Rick Scott recently signed into law a new system designed to ensure that unsuccessful principals are evaluated properly and dismissed if they do not improve.

Under the system, evaluations would explain dismissals publicly.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

.Fast facts

Six seek opening at Cypress Elementary

The application deadline for the principal vacancy at Cypress Elementary ended Tuesday. Six people applied for the post. They are: George Papaemanuel, the school's assistant principal; Dolly Gauvey, former Chasco Elementary principal; Megan Hermansen, Oakstead Elementary assistant principal; Sharon Sacco, Hudson Elementary assistant principal; Erica Tonello, Schrader Elementary assistant principal; and Kay Coe, a school administrator from Iowa.

Rocky tenure behind Deanna DeCubellis' departure as Cypress Elementary principal 05/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 9:58pm]
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