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Superintendent picks principal

Despite a groundswell of support for another applicant by many members of the school's faculty and staff, superintendent David Hickey today will recommend that the School Board appoint Teretta Charles as the new principal at Forest Ridge Elementary School.

"I think she's a class act," Hickey said. "You know I always try to hire the best, and if you look at Teretta Charles and her training and experience outside the district and inside, these are important pieces."

Charles, 63, currently principal at Inverness Primary School, will replace Renna Jablonskis, who will become the new director of student services in early January. Charles was attending a meeting of her advisory/enhancement council and could not be reached for comment after Hickey's announcement late Monday afternoon.

The board will consider the matter during its meeting this afternoon.

The appointment process generated controversy at the school. Nineteen letters from parents and staff were sent to the School Board and Hickey, including one signed by 39 Forest Ridge staff members. They praised the job done by Jablonskis and offered their own suggestions about how her replacement should be chosen.

While only one of the letters specifically pushed for the school's assistant principal, Dave Stephens, to get the job, many writers seemed to support him by detailing the need to stick with the path established by Jablonskis and how only one of the four final applicants was familiar with the school. Others mentioned how the school was a family and that the family atmosphere should be maintained.

Other comments in the letters warned that another of the applicants _ it didn't say which one _ could lead Forest Ridge in the wrong direction. The writers warned that credentials alone shouldn't carry the day; rather, the viewpoints of parents and staff at the applicants' schools should be considered. Writers also expressed hope that Forest Ridge could avoid conflicts between parents, staff and principal that other schools have seen.

The letters and anonymous complaints to the local media target Charles, who has a lengthy history of service in education including serving in top administrator positions in Los Angeles and New York City, school officials said. Her school also weathered controversy last year, when a small group of parents and staff opposed a hands-on educational program known as IPSville. Charles eventually ended the program because she could not get 80 percent of her staff to support it.

But Hickey saw that situation as a perfect example of how Charles is forward thinking because she sought extraordinary support before proceeding.

Hickey said he read the staff letters and understood the message the writers were sending. "I did listen and I did read the letters, but I feel in my heart that we got the right person," he said. Hickey also noted that Charles was also the choice of his interview committee.

In making his announcement at Forest Ridge on Monday afternoon, Hickey spoke highly of Jablonskis. "She cried and the faculty gave her a standing ovation. She will be sorely missed as a site-based administrator," Hickey said.

"I told the staff that change was inevitable and that there is nothing you can really do about it," Hickey said. "I told them to accept the challenge and rise to it . . . and you can continue to work toward success, and they will."

Then he introduced Charles, who carried through the theme of family, which had been broached by the staff.

"There is no doubt that the staff loves and respects Renna and that can very easily be a part of all this," Hickey said. "But when the new sheriff comes to town, or there is a new coach or a new principal or the new CEO is appointed . . . some people are going to love it and some people are probably not going to be happy."

Still, Hickey said he doesn't worry whether Charles, if she is confirmed today by the School Board, will be able to handle that challenge.

"Teretta Charles will be able to do that solely by herself," Hickey said.

Charles began her career in education as a teacher in Los Angeles. She retired to Citrus County in the mid 1990s but soon after began working as a volunteer at Citrus Springs Elementary School. That led her to a temporary teaching job at Crystal River Primary School and to becoming the school's assistant principal. She was appointed principal at Inverness Primary in 1997.

This is not the first time that Charles has found herself in the middle of a controversy over a job.

Last year, local minority activist Mercedia White criticized Hickey's choice to pick white high school principal Steve Richardson for the job of personnel director over Charles, who is black and who had a more extensive educational background.

At the time, Hickey promised the community that he would offer advancement opportunities to blacks and other minorities.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendtsptimes.com or 564-3621.

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