Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Education

Two days, 23 schools: new superintendent and her assistants welcome students, staff

Hernando County School District superintendent Lori Romano and her two top administrators climbed into a spacious black Lincoln Navigator on Monday morning, ready to begin a whirlwind two-day tour of all 23 of the district's schools.

It was about 8:30 a.m. — they were already running late.

The SUV pulled out of district headquarters in Brooksville toward Hernando High School, the first stop of the day. On her first school day as superintendent, Romano didn't try to hide her excitement.

Out the window, she spotted a few children walking to class.

"Look at all the itty-bitties," she exclaimed from the front seat. "Precious."

A few moments passed.

"This is the best day of the year," Romano said. "I could never sleep the night before school. It's still that way."

The day's mission was simple: Show everyone — in all of the schools — that the district's top administrators are there to support them. And that they really, truly mean it.

Romano and her two assistants — Sonya Jackson and Ken Pritz — walked into the office at Hernando High.

Everything was running smoothly.

"It's always good to have someone smooth up front," joked secretary Teri Sellers from behind the front desk.

They walked the campus, running into a smattering of students.

"Is that the superintendent?" one student asked a friend as he walked past.

No response.

The trio moved into the performing arts center, where a crowd of seniors had amassed. They briefly greeted them and moved on.

"I'm glad I wore comfortable shoes," Romano said, plunking down in the vehicle.

On the drive, they talked about problems at Springstead High. The bells, phones and intercoms weren't working. No good. Other than that — and the always-prevalent problems with busing — the reports on the first day were overwhelmingly positive.

"I couldn't have asked for a smoother start," said Central High's new principal, John Stratton, during the next stop.

Same at nearby West Hernando Middle School.

"Did you sleep at all last night?" Romano asked principal Carmine Rufa.

"A little bit," Rufa said with a laugh.

At Pine Grove Elementary, they found a line of students protruding out the front gate, but no major problems. Among the crowd was Sharehea Willis, who transferred her son to the school from Eastside Elementary after Eastside received an F grade from the state.

She was one of about two dozen parents whose children left the school.

"Being as how it's an F school, obviously things aren't what they're supposed to be," Willis said. "They weren't ready."

Next up: Weeki Wachee, the county's newest high school.

Principal Troy LaBarbara showed them around, working his walkie-talkie, directing students to classrooms and conducting teacher evaluations.

Romano met a few teachers, including some who didn't recognize her — a scene that played out many times throughout the day.

They took a spin through Winding Waters K-8, next to Weeki Wachee High, and then headed to Parrott Middle School.

"It's kind of cool that you guys are coming out," said Parrott principal Brent Gaustad, walking through a mostly empty hallway. "We used to be the best little secret in town."

They moved into a crowded cafeteria.

Head custodian Cheryl Johnson was elated to see the new superintendent..

"Very impressive," Johnson said. "She shook my hand. That was impressive."

"The last two superintendents we had … it was like we were nobodies. That's the impression I got."

They left for Eastside. In recent weeks, the school has gotten not only a new principal, Mary LeDoux, but also a facelift.

"I want you to admire the sidewalks," Romano said. "They were full of mold."

They met LeDoux, who greeted her guests with hugs.

"There's just this feeling of peace," she said.

"Your campus looks great," Romano responded, later saying: "Even the atmosphere when you walk up on the campus is different."

There were more hugs.

At Moton Elementary, the day was going "freaky smooth," said principal Mark Griffith. Brooksville Elementary — aside from some busing issues — was also chugging along nicely. Endeavor Academy, the day's last stop, was quiet.

Gaustad, the principal at Parrott, spoke for many in the district when he commended the administrators' efforts.

"They're part of us," he said. "That's a change from the past in Hernando County. It's not us against them at all."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Comments
Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Want to annoy an education leader in Florida?Tell them they’ve turned your child’s school into an assembly line of tiny test takers. Tell them innovation and imagination and excitement are rapidly disappearing in favor of teaching to the test.And whe...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Pinellas to look at high school start times today

Pinellas to look at high school start times today

Pinellas County school district officials have spent weeks analyzing bus routes and brainstorming ideas to see if later high school start times could be a reality this August.Today will tell how far they have come.Clint Herbic, associate superintende...
Updated: 11 hours ago
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Published: 01/19/18

Crews Lake thespians overcome the odds

SPRING HILL — It’s 8:30 a.m. — "homeroom" period in school speak — when kids in the Crews Lake Middle School drama club file into an empty chorus room to begin rehearsing under the direction of language arts teacher Kristen Sykora. There’s only 25 m...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Friday announced the first in a series of belt-tightening moves that include the elimination of three six-figure positions.Jobs now held by Wynne Tye and Larry Sykes will no longer exis...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

The Florida Department of Health has reported a sharp increase in flu activity in the last several weeks, prompting area schools to send out letters warning parents about the virus. At least two districts, however, say that flu activity in their scho...
Published: 01/19/18

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Published: 01/18/18
Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

"On Nov. 3, 2017, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to 1012 Buena Vista Drive … in reference to a death investigation."So begins a charging document in the case of Andrew Coffey, the 20-year-old Florida State University student who was foun...
Published: 01/18/18
In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushba...
Published: 01/18/18
Lithia Springs Elementary gets kids up with standing desks

Lithia Springs Elementary gets kids up with standing desks

VALRICO — Fifth-grade math teacher Melissa Forsythe walked around her Lithia Springs Elementary School classroom on Tuesday with zeal.She stopped at each station and listened with a big smile on her face as her students told stories about their new s...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/21/18