BROOKSVILLE — Chocachatti Elementary principal Maria Rybka has spent much of her life in Hernando County's public schools.
She is a graduate of West Hernando Middle School and Springstead High. She began her teaching career at Westside Elementary. She was a longtime assistant principal and then principal at Eastside Elementary.
And for nearly six years, she has led one of the county's highest-performing elementary schools, helping maintain its reputation for excellence and a nearly unblemished streak of "A" grades.
But now Rybka says she is ready to plot a different course — this time in the uncharted waters of private education.
In June, Rybka, 45, will leave Chocachatti to take over the administrator's job at Entirety K-12, a small, 2-year-old private school on Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Brooksville.
It ends a two-decade career in Hernando's public school system.
In addition to a private education, Entirety K-12, with about 35 full-time students, provides therapy, aimed primarily at students with dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Penny Bryson, a longtime friend of Rybka's and a former Eastside speech and language pathologist, is the founder and visionary behind the school and its therapy program.
The school incorporates dancing into the curriculum to help students overcome disabilities.
Bryson says the dancing — the coordination, balance, rhythm and timing it requires — helps open up brain pathways, allowing the brain to develop to its full capacity.
Rybka's job will be to build up the academic side, creating a strong curriculum and increasing enrollment.
The school is shooting for 50 students next year. The year after that, she would like to add 10 more. And even more after that.
Eventually, she wants to see the school "become a well-known name in the district," she said.
She says it can become a school for everyone.
The decision to leave Chocachatti was difficult, Rybka said. She loves the school's arts and MicroSociety magnet program, and says the teachers are incredible.
But the opportunity to shape and build a school was too good to pass up.
"It's just something that I've always dreamed about," she said. "I'd like to see what I can do."
She said she's leaving because of the opportunity, not because anything about her current job drove her away.
She did say it will be nice to leave behind certain types of public school accountability, such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
"I don't think it's pushing me out; I just think it's going to be a benefit to have that freedom," she said.
She's also excited about the opportunity to provide more choices for parents and their children.
While she says the public school system is great, Rybka notes that it's not for everybody.
"I think there should be choice out there for students if parents think they need something different," she said.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the district will replace Rybka using its normal procedure, first looking to internal candidates and then opening up the search.
Blavatt, who is set to retire at the end of June, said he will work closely with the next superintendent to fill the job.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.