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St. Petersburg College taps Gibbs High principal to lead downtown and midtown campuses

ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Gordon, the Gibbs High principal who is widely credited for jump-starting a turnaround at the long-troubled school, is headed for a top post at St. Petersburg College.

SPC has tapped him to be provost of the downtown and Midtown campuses, replacing Yvonne Ulmer, who is retiring as the campuses' chief executive officer. The two campuses have a total of 3,200 students. He'll begin work Nov. 28.

"St. Petersburg College has worked closely with Gibbs High as Kevin and the Gibbs staff helped their students make impressive gains," SPC president Bill Law said in a written statement Friday. "We know Kevin will bring that same energy and vision to his new role at the college."

"It's bittersweet," Gordon, 47, said about leaving Gibbs, which has about 1,400 students. "It's my alma mater. It's been an absolute labor of love."

Gordon's departure comes at a sensitive time.

Gibbs' test scores and graduation rates are improving, but it remains on "intervene" status, the most dire category in the state's accountability system.

"There were always those who were concerned (about whether) the trend will continue, even with Kevin," said School Board member Lew Williams. "We need to be certain that we get someone who can continue in the direction the school is going."

Former superintendent Julie Janssen recommended Gordon for Gibbs in 2009, just as it became the district's first-ever F-graded high school.

Gordon, a former track and basketball star at Gibbs, boldly promised the next grade would be a B.

He zeroed in on student discipline, promising to confiscate turned-on cell phones and personally cinching up students' droopy pants with zip ties. On academics, he worked closely with the state Department of Education, which put Gibbs under intense oversight.

The result: Gibbs earned a C last December, falling short of a B because of incomplete data. Its FCAT scores this year were among the fastest-rising in the district.

Still, huge challenges remain.

The positive trend lines belie the fact that Gibbs' scores remain among the district's lowest. In reading, 9 percent of its non-magnet students scored at grade level or above last year — the same percentage as the year before.

"If I could have my druthers, I'd keep Kevin there," said interim superintendent John Stewart. "But it's awfully hard to ask a man to turn down a job like a provost at a college."

Gordon said the work at Gibbs is far from done, but momentum will continue. He said teachers and students have bought into new ways of doing things. He noted the state oversight team still visits regularly.

"It wasn't Kevin by himself," he said. "Everyone made the changes at Gibbs happen."

Stewart said it's too early to know who will be Gibbs' next principal. He said he may recommend an acting principal before taking a harder look at a permanent replacement.

Gordon, who will receive his doctorate in educational leadership at the University of South Florida in December, made a base salary of $91,878 as principal. He applied for two district-level administration jobs this year: regional superintendent and chief turnaround officer. Both were given to someone else.

At SPC, Gordon will make $121,177 a year.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

St. Petersburg College taps Gibbs High principal to lead downtown and midtown campuses 10/21/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 12:23am]
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