Karen Marler, the former principal of Lacoochee Elementary School, was picked this week to head a group of community leaders seeking to revitalize the Lacoochee and Trilby neighborhoods in northeast Pasco.
"She knows the community, she knows the people and she knows the kids," said Roger Kaminski, who was chairman of the group for the past year. "She's been a real advocate for the area for a number of years."
The group is largely focused on implementing a 2009 plan to revive an area that has been declining since the Cummer Cypress Co. sawmill left in 1959. The 63-page proposal outlines dozens of goals, such as improving roads, adding streetlights and sidewalks in Trilby and attracting new businesses to the area. The plan also calls for a workforce training center that could pair with a business that moves in.
Kaminski said Marler will be responsible for ensuring improvements have buy-in from residents and recruiting community leaders to help with the plan. Marler was selected for the yearlong post Monday at a meeting attended by people from various groups and businesses who serve northeast Pasco. She was the only person nominated for the job and was approved unanimously.
Marler did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Marler, 59, was removed in October as principal of Lacoochee Elementary over concerns that she was unwilling or unable to mend the rift between two opposing factions of school employees. She was given an administrative job at the school district to work with migrant families in East Pasco, but resigned from that post shortly after she was removed as principal.
Even during the turmoil, which saw parents and students waving signs of support for Marler near the campus, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino praised Marler's efforts to work with some of Pasco's poorest children. She listed several positive changes such as creating Parent University and removing barbed wire from the campus fences.
Shirley Ray, the current principal at Lacoochee Elementary, said she supported Marler for the new role because she has deep roots in Lacoochee and can devote enough time to the revitalization effort. She added that Marler is a good person to let public officials and business leaders know "what we're needing as a community — more jobs, better roads, better homes."
Ray said teachers at the school "have embraced the new administration" and are focused on meeting the needs of kids. But she said last fall's controversy shouldn't hamper Marler in her new role.
Kaminski also said Marler's exit from the school isn't a problem. "It was more of a school board issue. It had nothing to do with the community outside of the school."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.