Three popular North Pinellas principals say goodbye

Forest Lakes Elementary School principal Bob Evers spent one of his last mornings on the job serving a time-out in his office.

His secretary had imprisoned him there.

But he wasn't being punished. She just didn't want Evers to see the surprise parade forming in honor of his retirement.

And that parade was just one of the heartfelt sendoffs given Friday to three top principals retiring from North Pinellas schools.

In addition to Evers, Donna Hoover is leaving Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary and Nell Chapman is saying goodbye to Brooker Creek Elementary.

Just before the Forest Lakes celebration started, Evers, 59, was escorted to a seat next to Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker, near the bus circle.

What followed was an outpouring of love from more than 700 students.

The children marched behind a fire truck with lights flashing and a Jolly Trolley decorated with cartoon characters.

Inside the trolley was Evers' sister Sandy Mahon, a professor who secretly flew in from Pittsburgh. He did not know she was there until he saw her waving from a window.

Also in attendance was Evers' wife, Linda, a teacher at Plumb Elementary in Clearwater.

Cub Scouts marching behind the vehicles held a flag. The school band was not far behind, playing flutes and drums. Some children sang songs. Still others chanted:

I don't know but I've been told

Mr. Evers is getting old.

The kids wore tall Dr. Seuss hats, paper crowns — all kinds of crazy head wear — and gray T-shirts with Evers' caricature on the front and a quote from TV personality Mr. Rogers on the back.

It said, "Where will your steps take you?''

The quote was especially meaningful to Evers because Fred Rogers was his second-grade Sunday school teacher in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

After he graduated from college, Evers' steps took him to a school in Beaver, Pa., in 1972, where he was an educator. They eventually brought him to Forest Lakes Elementary, where he was the principal for the past nine years.

Jennifer Bertisch, a parent of two students at the school, watched Evers give out hugs to the kids.

"He manages the lunchroom, and he goes into the classrooms and reads to the students,'' she said. "He's really a hands-on man, and he's loved. He knows every kid's name.''

After the parade, Evers and the students headed to a covered outdoor assembly area, where the party continued.

Ronecker read Evers a proclamation and told him that "through these children, your legacy will continue.''

He was also presented with a $2,000 Walt Disney World gift card and a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, which he put on his head to the delight of the children.

Evers thanked the young audience and told the students he plans to take his three grandchildren to Disney World. They have never been.

Then came the highlight of the event.

The women who work in the front office, as well as two female teachers and Karen Aspen, the assistant principal who has just been promoted to principal, put on long dreadlock wigs and performed Sean Kingston's reggae/rap hit Me Love.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

why did you have to go

Away from us?

Me love …

Evers said his plans do not include passing the days sitting in a rocking chair. He envisions raising his grandchildren and 15-year-old daughter Zoey, a St. Petersburg High School student.

And who knows? He said he may even return to Forest Lakes Elementary to play kickball with the students.

"When I look back, I have nothing but smiles,'' he said.

• • •

With the help of involved parents and staff, Donna Hoover's students have found academic acclaim by meeting goal after carefully crafted goal.

After 37 years in Pinellas County schools, 19 at Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School, Hoover retired as principal Friday.

"It's the growth and achievement of children that I'm most proud of," she said. "And we are right up there."

The school had the top elementary school FCAT scores in Florida for the 2004-05 school year. It also was chosen as a 2006 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, the only Tampa Bay school to win the award.

Hoover, 58, is a warm, caring person, said Nancy Klein, president of the PTA and mother of two Tarpon Springs Fundamental students.

"She really wants to see the students succeed, and the teachers and staff," Klein said. "In return, the students and the teachers and the staff work harder to be a successful school."

A first-grade class planted an oak tree in Hoover's honor a few weeks ago.

On Friday, the school was waiting for Hoover in the courtyard when she finished the morning announcements. There were speeches, poems, picture books and two new benches in the butterfly garden that the PTA donated with a dedication to Hoover.

"They had been planning it all since January," Hoover said. "The best part of it all was that they kept it a secret."

Mayor Beverley Billiris proclaimed Friday Donna Hoover Day in Tarpon Springs. School staff released butterflies. Students released ladybugs.

And students had some ideas about what Hoover should do to keep busy during retirement.

"There were things like watch birds," Hoover said, but one student made a picture that showed Hoover leading a band called "Retirements." Another showed Hoover break-dancing.

Hoover says she enjoys nature and photography. She looks forward to a trip to Alaska, more time at the gym and riding her bike, among other things.

But she may still stay close to kids.

"I thought I would take classes to be a guardian ad litem," she said.

• • •

A natural leader, Nell Chapman could rally enough students, teachers, staff and parents to fill a small town, but her relationships with each were what she valued most.

After nine years as principal of Brooker Creek Elementary School and 32 years in Pinellas County schools, Chapman retired Friday.

It was a departure that inspired gestures big and small.

On Thursday night, four of Cary Siegel's children decided, on their own, to write cards to Chapman.

"She leads in a way that causes people to want to be involved," said Siegel of East Lake, who has served as a school advisory board member for seven years. "She creates a very warm atmosphere that's very conducive to a strong and effective learning environment."

Chapman, 59, pays attention to the small details that are important, Siegel said. But he will remember her most for "the way she cares not just about the staff, but about the kids and parents."

Among Chapman's good qualities, said Linda Anderson, her secretary for nine years, are a sense of humor, fairness and a view of the big picture.

"She always had the benefit of the children and the staff in her mind, no matter what decision she made," Anderson said.

The school surprised Chapman Friday with a Chapman-style extravaganza: a luncheon, singing, clapping, honking horns.

When she walked into the courtyard, the whole school was waiting for her with a beach-themed celebration. Chapman was led to a lawn chair, crowned and fanned in place.

"It was just lovely," Chapman said. "The children sang like angels when they sang goodbye to me."

After retirement, Chapman plans to spend more time with family, travel to Spain and take a retirement trip with Donna Hoover and their friends. But leaving Brooker Creek will be tough.

"It's bittersweet," she said "This has been such a wonderful school.

"But I feel comfortable leaving because Donna Gehringer, who has been assistant principal with me for two years, is going to be principal."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153. Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Three popular North Pinellas principals say goodbye 05/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 3:33pm]

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