Lacoochee Elementary principal reassigned to east Pasco job

LACOOCHEE — Karen Marler is out for good as principal of Lacoochee Elementary School.

Seven Oaks Elementary School assistant principal Shirley Ray, who grew up in nearby Trilby, will take over the school today. She will meet with parents and the community at 4:30 p.m.

Pasco County schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino removed Marler, 59, from the school two weeks ago amid staff complaints of a hostile work environment. Fiorentino then sent a team of district administrators to Lacoochee.

"In our investigation, we found it to be true," Fiorentino said Tuesday in announcing her decision to reassign Marler to a job working with migrant families in east Pasco. "I have to make sure the leadership at that school can control the atmosphere and work environment for staff and the learning environment for students."

So far, no one responsible for causing the negative conditions has been penalized, district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said. Further action could depend on how successfully Ray can calm the situation inside the school.

The district did not release details about the specific complaints and findings. Those will become public record in 10 days.

Fiorentino did say that when she asked Marler about the situation, Marler responded that she was "at her wit's end" dealing with some issues at the school. That helped seal Fiorentino's decision.

Marler, who has a one-year administrative contract with the district, will be a principal on assignment but with no supervisory role. She will fill a vacant Title I program specialist position and will have that job title and pay if she retains the job next year.

She did not return calls seeking comment. She is taking four days off before reporting to the new job, which is based at Pasco High School in Dade City.

As the district conducted its climate study, several parents and community members rallied for Marler's quick return. They praised her as caring for children and active in the area's revitalization efforts.

Sandra Gallego, president of the school's Parent Teacher Community Organization, was among the group that gathered petition signatures and waved signs in support of their principal of nearly six years.

She said her daughter started crying after hearing the news, and asked if Marler would be back to say goodbye. For herself, Gallego figured the only real choice was to move on.

"Hopefully, the new principal and vice principal will be just as good," she said. "If (Ray) is a nice lady and she helps us, that's all that matters."

Fiorentino had high praise for Ray, a district teacher since 1997 and an assistant principal since 2007.

"She knows the community," Fiorentino said. "She has a very strong curriculum background and a very caring heart."

The superintendent also had many good words for Marler and her efforts for the school that serves some of Pasco's poorest children and families.

"Ms. Marler has great skills working with the community. … I know she did wonderful things for that school," she said, mentioning a variety of things including the creation of Parent University and the removal of barbed wire from the campus fences. "She has started great things out there. But I also have staff that felt they were in a hostile work environment."

That was a situation that couldn't be ignored, she said, particularly since it was brought out by several people and it had happened "more than once."

The district conducted a climate survey at Lacoochee a few years ago and found some areas where Marler was required to improve.

The School Board approved the job transfers on Tuesday without comment.

Afterward, only board member Kathryn Starkey would say anything about the change.

"I'm glad Ms. Marler will continue to be active in the migrant community," Starkey said.

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

School news

In other business

The Pasco County School Board met Tuesday and took the following action:

• Approved a new administration job called "position control/compensation specialist," which will oversee all employee assignments. Board members raised concerns about the addition of another district-level job, but agreed the position was needed to help cope with class size and other mandates.

• Authorized the superintendent's staff to investigate ways to acquire lands up for auction that are adjacent to school sites.

• Raised concerns about the Imagine charter school's persistent failures to submit timely reports and documents to the district, but signed off on the school's request for capital outlay funding from the state.

• Heard board member Kathryn Starkey suggest consideration of mandatory student uniforms for elementary and middle schools.

Lacoochee Elementary principal reassigned to east Pasco job 10/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:39pm]

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