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Parent complaints about school principal bring action by superintendent.

Ellyn Smith,  principal of Alafia Elementary.

Ellyn Smith, principal of Alafia Elementary.

VALRICO — Parents at Alafia Elementary were looking for action when they recently took their gripes about the principal of the A-rated school to the School Board.

They complained about teacher turnover and morale and student safety on campus and said they were dismayed by the results of a survey of the school climate.

On Tuesday, they got action. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia is dispatching a team this week to assess the school and help to diagnose its problems. The committee is conducting interviews and spending three days at the school beginning this week.

"No names, people can say what they like," Elia said Tuesday while updating the School Board on the Alafia situation.

She said the assessment group will report to district administrators, the principal, school employees and parents.

"When we have issues that come up, we have to listen. We have to work through those issues," Elia said. "And we have to use a fair process to look at what's happening at a school and then come up with a plan."

Amy Dreyer, who has two children at Alafia, said she's cautiously optimistic about the School Board's actions. She has said that principal Ellyn Smith has not responded to her complaints about a disruptive child in her son's kindergarten class, and she said parents aren't notified of school meetings.

"There's still a lot of skepticism," she said Wednesday from the school, where she was meeting with the committee. "Even the teachers are skeptical because of all the history, but they are hopeful."

District officials have stepped up their involvement at Alafia after a dozen parents showed up at a School Board meeting two weeks ago to complain about principal Smith, Elia said.

Elia said school officials have held six meetings regarding the Alafia situation since June. Elia also met directly with the principal.

The district already had plans to conduct one-on-one interviews with teachers in mid October in an effort to create a plan for Alafia, long considered one of the best schools in the county.

"I want to make it clear that this is something that we have been working on," Elia said.

Alafia is one of the few schools to have earned straight A's since the state began grading schools. But parents say its storied reputation is endangered by tensions on the campus.

School Board members rarely hear parents complain about principals during their public meetings. Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero, who represents east Hillsborough, said she had never seen so many parents turn out at once.

She was pleased to see Elia getting more involved.

"When a school is polarized, it's not a healthy environment for students or staff to be part of, and it filters out into the community as well," Faliero said.

Times Staff Writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Parent complaints about school principal bring action by superintendent. 10/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:01pm]
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