Thursday, January 18, 2018
Education

Superintendent visits Bayonet Point Middle School to hear staff concerns

BAYONET POINT — It's been a rough school year for Bayonet Point Middle School.

One teacher died in a car crash. Another died of brain cancer. Two other teachers are battling cancer now.

Through it all, principal Steve Knobl has led the school while also trying to help everyone cope.

The news that superintendent Heather Fiorentino planned to transfer Knobl — Bayonet Point's fifth principal since 2001 — to Gulf High School on June 9 hit the school hard.

"What did we at this school do to be singled out to be continually disrupted?" teacher Jane Johnson wrote in a letter to Fiorentino. "The needs of the faculty and staff and students at BPMS seem to be a priority only to us. Do we need to make a D grade in order for someone at county to help us, or have consideration for us?"

Fiorentino headed to Bayonet Point Middle on Tuesday morning to try to allay some of the staff's concerns. She said she did a lot of listening during the 30-minute session, which was not open to the public.

"One of the complaints was that they had to read about (the transfer) in an article before I could tell them," Fiorentino said. "They asked that I be able to tell them about their new principal … before they read about it in the paper."

The staffers also urged the superintendent to give them a principal who will stay for a longer period of time than the past several school leaders have.

"I told them I don't know … but I will ask if they (applicants) are willing to stay," said Fiorentino, who generally tells principal candidates to plan to stay at a school at least two years.

But the fact is that the district sees its number of principals grow each year as new schools are added, she observed, and the candidate pool isn't necessarily as deep as she might prefer. Sometimes, existing school leaders such as Knobl might seek to change jobs for personal or professional reasons, and then a domino effect of movement can occur.

Knobl did not seek the move to Gulf High, but he has said he wants to be a high school principal.

"They have recognized it's a promotion, and it's something that I want," Knobl said.

Several times, he has also noted that the change is bittersweet, as he took on a responsibility to Bayonet Point and wants to see through his commitments. For that reason, Knobl asked to remain at the middle school until classes end. He also has pledged to advocate for the staff that remains, planning to play a role in the selection of his replacement.

Part of that promise meant bringing Fiorentino to campus to talk with the faculty.

"I think they just wanted to hear from the third-floor staff that they're going to be taken care of," Knobl said, guessing that whoever takes over will do a lot of listening.

At least one of the most publicly outspoken teachers on the subject wasn't completely satisfied.

"We got exactly what we expected — a politician … telling us it's all for the big picture of the school system, it's all for the betterment of everyone," said math teacher Mike Overbeck, who wrote a letter appealing for consistency at the school that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times. "Many people are still unhappy."

But even Overbeck sounded resigned to the fact that change is certain and that the best thing for the school is to move on.

"We've got to go on as a school, and, hopefully, things will get better in the future, and we will have some consistency," he said.

The application period for the Bayonet Point Middle principal job ends today. Fiorentino said she hopes to have a recommendation to the School Board before the end of May.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

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