Danny Valentine, Times Staff Writer

Danny Valentine

Danny Valentine is based in Brooksville, covering education and general assignment stories for tampabay.com and the Tampa Bay Times. Always accepting story ideas.

Phone: (352) 848-1432

Email: dvalentine@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DannyValentine

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  1. New principals will be at the helm at five Hernando schools

    K12

    Springstead High School will be under new leadership during the coming school year for the first time in a decade, highlighting one of several changes in principals across the Hernando County School District.

    After her most recent 11-year stint as Sprinstead's principal, Susan Duval retired this summer and was replaced by former West Hernando Middle School principal Carmine Rufa, 47.

    Rufa has taught physical education and health, and coached at the school, and also briefly served as an assistant principal. In addition, one of his two sons is a sophomore at Springstead. His other son was the school's class of 2014 class valedictorian....

    Lori Lessley, 51, is principal at West Hernando Middle.
  2. Changes coming for Hernando students this school year

    K12

    New bell schedules. Longer periods. More busing.

    Hernando County students and their parents will notice a number of important changes when they begin the 2014-15 school year on Aug. 18.

    The change that affects almost everyone: school start and end times. Across the county, almost all schools will have substantial changes.

    Most middle schools will have their start and end times pushed back by an hour and 40 minutes, going from a start time of 7:30 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. All four of the district's middle schools will end at 4:10 p.m....

  3. Trust is a focal point in the District 1 Hernando School Board contest

    Elections

    More so than any of the other Hernando School Board election races this year, the District 1 contest between incumbent John Sweeney and his two opponents centers around one issue: trust.

    This spring, news broke of Sweeney's possible involvement in changing his son's grades for a course at Springstead High School, generating a formal ethics complaint against Sweeney and a list of questions about his actions....

    Donald Whiting says he’ll promote fiscal prudence.
  4. Hernando County School Board weighs 2014-15 budget options

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Faced with a tenuous financial outlook for 2014-15, the Hernando County School District on Tuesday considered a host of options to increase revenue and control expenses.

    The 10 potential options, which were each briefly discussed before the first public hearing on the district's 2014-15 budget, varied in size and potential savings. In most cases, board members asked the staff to come back with more information without giving a nod one way or another....

  5. Key administrator in turnaround named to principal position in Hernando

    Blog

    A key administrator in the turnaround at Eastside Elementary School this past school year is getting a chance to lead a school of her own.

    On Friday evening, the district announced that assistant principal Lisa Piesik, 42 will take over as the new principal at Powell Middle for the 2014-15 school year.

    Under the leadership of Piesik and principal Mary LeDoux, Eastside improved from an F to a C. LeDoux called Piesik an "integral part of the EES family and a huge part of helping to turn the school around....

  6. Hernando schools budget has improved numbers before hearing

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Amid recent reports of a grim financial outlook, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday will hold the first of two public hearings on the district's 2014-15 budget.

    The Hernando County School District is projecting that it will end the year with about $6.8 million in unassigned reserves, representing 4.39 percent of estimated revenues. Although that is short of the district's policy of maintaining a 5 percent unassigned fund balance, it would be considerably better than what was forecast last month....

  7. Students allowed transfers from Hernando schools without music programs

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District has come up with a solution that will allow students at the two high schools that have lost music programs to continue playing and singing:

    Let them transfer.

    Officials at Nature Coast Technical High and Central High sent out a message last week informing students who were planning to participate in band or chorus that they could switch schools....

    Nature Coast Technical High and Central High recently eliminated music programs, but students were not notified in time to request normal transfers.
  8. Spring Hill truck driver dies in accident at Hernando cement plant

    Accidents

    SPRING HILL — Ismael Santana was a loving and faith-filled man who took pleasure in providing for his loved ones.

    On Thursday, his family struggled as they wondered: How could such a man have been taken away from them so suddenly?

    "We couldn't believe it," said sister-in-law Paula Santana. "It was too hard to accept."

    Hernando County sheriff's deputies say Santana, 51, an independent truck driver from Spring Hill, was hauling ash at a Cemex cement plant Wednesday morning when he was pinned between a front-end loader and his semitrailer....

    Ismael Santana, 51, died in a Brooksville hospital. He had a wife and two grown kids.
  9. Brooksville middle school lands band instructor, keeping program alive

    Blog

    BROOKSVILLE - Parrott Middle School has a new band director.

    After months of anticipation and worry that the program might fold, principal Brent Gaustad on Tuesday announced that he has hired former Central High band director Luke Cramer, who had been let go from Central after the band and chorus program dissolved because of low enrollment.

    Numerous parents had expressed concern about he future of Parrott's program and the negative impact it would have on Hernando High's band if it ended....

  10. Brooksville middle school lands band instructor, keeping program alive

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Parrott Middle School has a new band director.

    After months of anticipation and worry that the program might fold, principal Brent Gaustad announced Tuesday that he has hired former Central High band director Luke Cramer, who had been let go from Central after the band and chorus program dissolved because of low enrollment.

    Numerous parents had expressed concern about he future of Parrott's program and the negative impact it would have on Hernando High's band if it ended....

  11. Spring Hill woman killed in Orlando hit-and-run remembered for her humor, smile

    Accidents

    SPRING HILL — People couldn't help but be drawn to 20-year-old Nicole Marie Brennan.

    A free spirit with a healthy sense of humor and a big, inviting smile, she accepted easily, judged little and genuinely wanted to improve the lives around her.

    "She loved you for you," said her mother, Monika Brennan. "She always tried to make people feel better about themselves."

    And that's one of the things family and friends will miss most....

    Nicole Brennan, 20, of Spring Hill “really cared about everyone,” a former teacher said.
  12. Hernando utility workers say they had no doubt: 'This is a dead body'

    Public Safety

    SPRING HILL — For Hernando County utilities employees Thomas Hirchak and Carmine Dorsi, there was no mistaking what was brought to the West Hernando Convenience Center on Thursday morning in the bed of a white pickup.

    The man driving the truck believed he was dropping off a mannequin, but the workers saw signs of humanity — and death — everywhere.

    There was the discolored skin. The body's heft. The tattoo on one of the legs. And the smell....

    Two Hernando utilities employees discovered the body of a man in a Dumpster at the West Hernando Convenience Center on Thursday after cleaners mistook it for a prop.
  13. AP scores improve in Hernando but still below averages

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Results on Advanced Placement tests improved slightly this year in the Hernando County School District, with increases in both the passing percentage and the number of students who took the exams.

    Hernando County students earned passing scores — a 3 or higher out of 5 — on 46 percent of the exams they took in 2014, up a little more than 1 percentage point from the previous year....

  14. Trooper dismissed after DUI, drug arrest in Spring Hill

    Crime

    SPRING HILL — A Florida Highway Patrol trooper has been dismissed after he was arrested on duty last week on charges of driving under the influence and felony drug possession, according to FHP.

    Commercial vehicle enforcement Trooper Shaun Robert Morel, 36, of Spring Hill was fired July 10, the day after he was arrested.

    "Troopers are and should be held to the highest standards of integrity and trust," according to an FHP statement. "Morel's actions showed that he failed to uphold those standards expected of our members, and this behavior will not be tolerated by the department."...

  15. Mistaking body for mannequin, workers toss it in a Dumpster

    Crime

    SPRING HILL — For the second time this year, someone in the Tampa Bay area has mistaken a body for a mannequin and thrown it in a Dumpster.

    It happened in St. Petersburg this spring when a security guard trashed the body of an elderly woman who had jumped to her death from her 16th-floor apartment.

    And it happened in Spring Hill on Thursday when two workers hired to clean out a house believed the body of a man who hanged himself in the garage was a mannequin used for a prank. One of the men took the body to a dump, where county workers became suspicious and called deputies....

    Hernando Sheriff’s Office investigators work Thursday at a Spring Hill home where a body was found hanging in the garage. The body was taken to a transfer station.