Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Education

Springstead High principal built 'culture of learning' at Hernando school

I challenge you to name a job, in a community this size, as important and potentially rewarding as high school principal.

Your realm is small enough that leadership is direct and personal. You get to know kids. If your teachers take a stand to maintain discipline or academic standards, you can stand right beside them.

Yet schools are big enough that a principal can change thousands of lives over the course of a career. Send out crop after crop of students who are actually prepared to take a place in the workforce or a college classroom and you've performed a massive public service.

Speaking of which, veteran Springstead High School principal Susan Duval retired this week. Her last day at school was Wednesday, her final graduation last night.

Springstead, based on most of the statistics I've seen and on the experience of my older son, who graduated from there last year, is hands-down the best high school in the county. And the void Duval leaves after her most recent, 11-year stint running Springstead is all the bigger because of the retirement last school year of two other top-flight principals: Sue Stoops of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics and Joe Clifford of Central High School.

Fortunately, Duval has also left behind some lessons, including that principals need to show that they give a darn.

When I used to see Duval directing traffic on Landover Boulevard every morning when I dropped my son off at school, my first thought was that there had to be a better use of a principal's time.

(No, Duval told me last week, not when there's no money for a crossing guard, which was the case until the start of this school year.)

My second thought: It must be great for students to arrive at school at such a crazy-early hour and see the principal already there, already wearing her orange safety vest and standing out in the middle of a busy street on their behalf.

Plus, she sure got to see and greet a lot of kids, including my own very shy son. And that had to send the message that the head of this school was not a distant, disinterested figure, not an antagonistic one, but one who was on their side.

It definitely did, said Clifford. So did Duval's attendance at a wide variety of sporting events — not just big football and basketball games but cross country meets and tennis matches.

"The students always knew that Susan would be there," Clifford said.

This message of unity no doubt helped reduce discipline problems, but it was hardly her only method of maintaining order.

Justin Campbell, a Springstead biology teacher, said that administrators at another school where he worked, viewed suspensions as black marks against their name. Reporting trouble in his classroom, he said, got him in trouble.

Duval, on the other hand, supports teachers who enforce rules, Campbell said. He is leaving teaching because of his disillusionment with the profession and the county district. But "Springstead is an oasis compared to the rest of the system because of the way Susan leads," he said.

Academic success, of course, is about more than controlling behavior.

You have to push for it, over time and through obstacles.

Duval, who was hired as a Hernando school teacher in 1969, served several years as a Springstead assistant principal and principal in the 1980s and '90s before being ousted after a disagreement with an interim superintendent.

More recently, she survived miniscandals over borrowing parts of one of her own graduation speeches and heavily editing the speech of a Harvard-bound valedictorian.

In the 1990s, she started working for an academy offering a wide array of college-level Advanced Placement classes, which became a reality when she was away from the school, in 2000.

She was there for most of the long struggle to create the county's only International Baccalaureate program in 2009.

It wasn't just her, of course, said a veteran chemistry teacher at Springstead, Becky Vonada.

"It's the faculty as a whole that drives instruction and requires excellence," Vonada said. "But we've been able to do that because we always know we have the administration's support."

"The thing that is sacrosanct is a culture of learning," Clifford said.

"That's what Susan created."

And tell me. Can you think of a better legacy?

Comments
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Published: 05/21/18
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Published: 05/20/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Hooper: SEL lends a solution to the increasingly toxic world of kids

An incident recently arose between students at Jesuit High School and Academy of the Holy Names that involved allegations of cyberbullying, homophobia, misogyny and assault.It only involved a fraction of the students at two of Tampa’s most prestigiou...
Updated: 8 hours ago
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18
‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

Paige Curry tried to keep calm Friday morning as a gunman tore through her Santa Fe High School, eventually killing 10 people and injuring another 10. The 17-year-old watched as a girl nearby panicked. Curry, herself terrified, considered running out...
Published: 05/19/18
Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Before they could get away, we asked the top graduates at Pinellas County’s private schools to write a Twitter-length paragraph about what’s on their mind. We suggested they reflect on the past or the future, or talk about the people who helped them ...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

A Florida teacher was placed on administrative leave after school officials were told that he had students help him drown wild raccoons during class.A 14-second video published by CBS affiliate WKMG showed a group of students filling a tub of water u...
Published: 05/17/18