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Zephyrhills High principal resigns amid investigation

ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills High School principal Steve Van Gorden resigned his position Friday, effective immediately.

Van Gorden, who is also the mayor of Zephyrhills, had been under investigation at the school district for unspecified allegations since being placed on administrative leave Oct. 19.

"You are human. You make mistakes. I did," Van Gorden said. "I let my personal life jeopardize my judgment."

He declined to give details, saying that he is still trying to sort out his feelings after making the decision to quit the Pasco school district after nearly 16 years.

He said he plans to continue serving as mayor and remain involved with other community groups. He is president of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and president-elect of the Zephyrhills Noon Rotary.

"I made some mistakes," said Van Gorden, 37. "Those mistakes are not something that should have went on. It is something that I am truly sorry for. Now it's time for me to learn and grow from that and move forward."

Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose would not provide any information about the district's investigation. She said it remains open until the School Board formally accepts Van Gorden's resignation on Tuesday.

District policy requires the board to approve all administrative resignations.

"He could take it back. People do that all the time," DuBose said. "Once it is accepted, the investigative file will be open."

School Board members said they had not received word of Van Gorden's move, nor did they have information about the reasons he was placed on leave.

"I hate that for Steve and for our schools," said board member Allen Altman, who represents Zephyrhills.

The news made its way into classrooms soon after Friday's final bell rang. History teacher Judy Walker, one of several supporters who sent letters to the board on Van Gorden's behalf, was teary and upset.

"I think this is a tragedy," Walker said. "This school, this community, these students are losing a wonderful principal. I have never worked for a principal that cared for his school more than he does. . . . It is unbelievable that something like this could happen."

She said many students had talked to her about sending additional letters backing Van Gorden to the board and superintendent.

"The seniors are truly upset that he is gone," she said.

Van Gorden praised the students and staff of Zephyrhills High as a "class act," saying he appreciated the time he had to work with them and put the school on a path toward success. He added that he wished he could remain at the school.

"But when you're entrusted with a leadership position, you need to handle yourself professionally at all times," he said. "There were times I did not do that. I am sorry for those missteps. . . . This is the right thing to do."

Van Gorden said he planned to spend time with his two children, and to focus on the city of Zephyrhills, where he was elected mayor in April. He was grateful for the support that he received leading up to his decision, while the investigation was ongoing.

"It doesn't matter what my role is in the community," he said. "People know who I am and what I stand for."

Van Gorden joined the district in August 1997. He became principal at Zephyrhills High in 2009, after serving as principal at Hudson Middle School.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Zephyrhills High principal resigns amid investigation 11/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 7:56pm]
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