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Ousted Pasco County school administrator Ray Gadd recalls "fond memories" on way out

LAND O'LAKES — Ray Gadd's office looked barren.

The photos, the awards, the mementos collected over 28 years were gone. All that remained were some district-issued supplies and a handful of papers Gadd planned to complete before the end of business Tuesday.

After that, his job would be someone else's concern.

Starting today, the Pasco County school district's assistant superintendent for support services is officially unemployed, his contract not renewed by Superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

All Tuesday morning, Gadd fielded well-wishers on the phone, in the hallways, in his office. Everyone wanted to take him to lunch and get his contact information.

"We're going to miss Ray big-time," said Lt. Brian Prescott, head of the district's school resource officer program, who dropped by to reminisce. "It's a huge loss."

Gadd, 52, smiled throughout, humbled by the outpouring of support from people from all points on the political and education spectrum. He refused to say anything negative about the situation that leaves him with no concrete plan of action for the first time in memory.

"When I look back on the Pasco County school system, 99.99 percent of it is fond memories," Gadd said. "I loved this job. I get up in the morning ready to go to work, happy to have an agenda. The most difficult thing for me is going to be to wake up Wednesday morning without an agenda."

The only thing that's certain, he said, is that he will remain active in Pasco County. Calls with job inquiries have already come, but Gadd wants to take it slow and make sure he ends up in the right spot.

A couple of School Board members and other community leaders rallied behind Gadd last month after Fiorentino decided not to renew his contract. She told Gadd that she was going "in a new direction," but has refused to discuss her reasoning with the School Board or the press, telling a Times reporter, "I don't talk about reappointments."

Many people have urged Gadd to fight Fiorentino for the district's elected top spot in 2010, or at the very least to press for an appointed superintendent to run the growing district. But Gadd won't commit to such efforts, saying he doesn't want to be petty.

"That would negate everything I've accomplished, if the focus became the superintendent," Gadd said.

Gadd came up through the ranks of former superintendent John Long's administration after the two became bicycling buddies. He helped run the district's successful 2004 Penny for Pasco campaign, and then was key to putting the tax money to use in building several new schools to ease major crowding problems across the county.

Over that period of time, he sparred with county officials over some of their decisions and actions in areas such as impact fees, road repairs and school concurrency — the planning to ensure new schools keep up with new growth. Yet on Tuesday he went out of his way to praise the county government officials for their hard work and their endeavors to tackle the massive job of taming growth in the rapidly rising county.

Gadd also gave kudos to the managers who reported to him for the past few years within the district. He said the reason so many people thought he did a good job was because they did such a good job.

Lessons from Long

He gave his staff its due several times, mostly because of lessons he learned from Long, whom Gadd considered a mentor as well as a friend.

"There's hardly a time in my working week or month that I don't think about John Long," he said.

He offered two stories to illustrate the main lessons in leadership that he took from the late superintendent.

About six months before the Penny for Pasco election, Gadd remembered, he walked into Long's office and said he might get some things wrong during the campaign, things that might call for a letter of reprimand. Long told him no letter would ever be coming because he was part of a team doing his job the best he could.

"Then he said, 'Get out of here and get to work,' " Gadd recalled.

Lesson No. 1: Stand by your people.

On the night of the election, when it looked like the referendum would pass, Gadd and the supporters were ready to celebrate. They called Long, who was notably absent, to tell him to come to the party.

He said he wouldn't be there.

"He said, 'You guys deserve all the credit, and if I come over then the focus would be on me,' " Gadd remembered, his eyes tearing up. "I've never forgotten him because of that. He never did come over."

But Long did go out of his way later to tell the core working group how great they had done.

Lesson No. 2: Don't take credit for the work of others.

"Those are the two things he taught me about leadership and, frankly, it's all I ever needed," Gadd said.

No regrets

His time done in the Pasco school district, Gadd said he had no regrets or ill will against anyone.

"I'm not angry," he said Tuesday. "I feel good today. I feel happy. I've got a wife that loves me, a daughter that loves me, a wonderful home, three beautiful dogs. ... I am looking forward to taking off on something new."

He's just not sure what that might be yet, except to know that it will involve Pasco County and the Tampa area.

"I'm not leaving town," Gadd said. "This is my home."

Fiorentino was out of town for the week. She has yet to state her plans for the job that Gadd is leaving.

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

Ousted Pasco County school administrator Ray Gadd recalls "fond memories" on way out 06/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 8:25pm]
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