1. Archive

Meet the new faces in the principals' offices

After a summer shake-up, students will find new principals in place when they return to Springstead High and Moton, Pine Grove and Spring Hill elementary schools Aug. 18.

If it were a kid's game, it would be called "Follow the Principal."

Like musical chairs, it involves a lot of moving around. And when the music stops, things don't look the same as they did before.

Four schools in Hernando County _ Moton, Spring Hill and Pine Grove elementary schools and Springstead High School _ will have new principals when students return on Aug. 18, in what may be the most widespread administrative shake-up in the district's history.

The moves are being attributed to nothing more than a collective itch for a change of scenery, all of it set in motion with the opening of a new elementary school, which of course required a new principal, too.

Here's what the administrators who were part of "Follow the Principal" say they have in store for their new schools:

Pine Grove Elementary

The game began here when Michael Tellone, the only principal Pine Grove Elementary had ever known, accepted the challenge of opening the district's first magnet school, Chocachatti Elementary.

Tellone's replacement is Dave Dannemiller, who last year was the assistant principal at Brooksville Elementary. Dannemiller says he is well aware of Pine Grove's record of achievement under Tellone.

Pine Grove earned a C on the state's new school grading system. But due to a quirk in the way the grades are calculated, the school just missed an A by a few percentage points on one of the achievement tests.

Pine Grove has consistently finished among the district's top-performing elementary schools, despite its high number of students from families who are economically disadvantaged. Family wealth often has an impact on how involved parents are with their children's education and can affect a child's performance.

Dannemiller said he is eager to see what has made the school work so well.

"I came in here respecting Pine Grove and respecting what Michael did at this school," Dannemiller said. "For me to come in here and change everything would be ludicrous. (But) I have some ideas."

Every major program that was in place last year at Pine Grove _ things like a science lab teacher, a math lab and Project Read, a reading remediation program with two teachers _ will return.

After a year as principal, Dannemiller might consider some changes. He is a fan of magnet school programs, where a common theme runs throughout the curriculum, and technology. One thing he has had to do immediately is rebuild Pine Grove's faculty. Tellone took 17 Pine Grove teachers with him to Chocachatti.

But Dannemiller likes the prospects he has interviewed this summer. And he has been impressed by the veteran faculty members who remain. "That is why I'm so excited about this opportunity . . . to see this at work," he said.

Spring Hill Elementary

Initially, Spring Hill principal Will Schantl was to take over for Tellone at Pine Grove. Instead, Schantl took a job as superintendent of a small school district in Michigan.

Either way, he's gone. And in his place now is John DiRienzo, who was the principal last year at Moton Elementary, the only school in the county to receive a D grade on the state's new grading system.

DiRienzo said he realizes that some Spring Hill Elementary parents may wonder whether their school, which received a C grade, is getting shortchanged by the arrival of the guy who was principal of the county's D school.

But he would caution them to understand the challenges any principal faces at Moton, a school that's both a center for special education students and also populated with the highest number of low-income students in the county. That's not a knock against poor people, DiRienzo said. It's a reflection of the time and energy families have to devote to education.

And DiRienzo feels his experience at Moton will come in handy at Spring Hill, which has crossed a threshold in terms of its own student body. Because of its rising number of students from low-income families, Spring Hill will receive $300,000 of new federal money to help level the playing field for those children.

The money will be used to expand a reading remediation program and hire a parent educator who will help parents learn creative ways to help their kids at home.

"It's a different way of doing things," DiRienzo said of the changes that come with Spring Hill's designation as a Title I school.

DiRienzo, whose two sons attended Spring Hill Elementary, said he thinks the school is capable of earning A's and B's on the state's grading system. He is impressed by the experience level of the faculty, some of whom taught his sons.

"They know the population. They've seen the changes in the population. And they've grown with them," DiRienzo said.

Moton Elementary

Stepping into DiRienzo's office at Moton will be Donnie Moen, who last year was principal at Springstead High School.

Despite the fact that he has been working with older students in recent years, Moen is no stranger to elementary schools, where he spent 17 years as a teacher and an assistant principal. And the variety of his experiences, which include time in the middle schools, should help him, he said.

"It gives you a good picture of where you start, where you are going and where you end up," Moen said.

After being at Springstead, the largest school in the county, Moen is eager to work with a smaller staff (28 faculty members versus 155) and a smaller student body (700 versus 1,700).

Moton's D grade on the state assessments is a major concern to the school's new principal. Moen said he will sit down with teachers to examine the test scores and map out ways to improve them.

"I enjoy challenges," Moen said. "When I'm done with challenges, I probably need to get out of the profession."

Springstead High

Dot Dodge, who will take Moen's place at Springstead, is no stranger to Spring Hill, having worked in the community's schools for the past 20 years.

As Springstead's principal, Dodge hopes only to enhance those ties with the community. One of her top priorities is to get parents more involved in the school and in their children's educations.

It's a cliche, but she pledges to have an open-door policy to parents. She wants her staff to recommit itself to answering the questions and concerns that parents have. In her words, she wants Springstead to be "a friendly place for parents."

Dodge's motives are clear: She says teachers do not stand a chance of getting students to participate in class and behave themselves unless parents assert themselves at home.

"The only way you really improve student achievement is to get parents on the same page," Dodge said. "We can make (students) come to school, but we need cooperation as far as motivation is concerned."

Immediately, Dodge will face the task of managing the flow of students through a campus that, in past years, has been filled to overflowing.

The school district has helped her cause by persuading 75 zoned-for-Springstead freshmen to attend Central High School. And it appears that Springstead might actually start the year with fewer students than it did last year.

Still, Dodge says six teachers will have to "float" to maximize use of the campus. That means they will not have their own classrooms, instead moving to empty rooms as other teachers break for planning periods. Fortunately, their floating will be confined to classrooms within their department. For example, a floating math teacher will float only to classrooms with math materials and equipment.

As the new year begins, Dodge is optimistic about her school's future.

"Springstead's possibilities," she said, "are endless."

DAVE DANNEMILLER, Pine Grove Elementary School

Age: 40

Education: Bachelor's in elementary education from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio; master's in educational leadership (1992) from University of South Florida.

Previous experience: Assistant principal at Brooksville Elementary; technology specialist in Hernando district office; teacher at Brooksville Elementary, J.D. Floyd Elementary, West Hernando Middle and Mitchel L. Black Elementary.