Longtime Pinellas educator Raymond Tampa bid farewell Friday to children and staff at Lakewood Elementary School, ending a 31-year career with the district.
Tampa, who has been principal at Lakewood since 2000, told faculty on Sept. 10 that he had accepted a job in Atlanta with a private education company. He will serve as principal at one of 10 schools the firm runs for low-performing and disruptive students.
Community Education Partners, based in Nashville, also will run a school in Pinellas.
The School Board agreed several months ago to hire CEP to educate as many as 600 middle and high school students with problems such as chronic suspension or defiance. The school is scheduled to open in January at 8580 66th St. N in Pinellas Park.
Tampa said he was approached over the summer by former director of school operations Arlington Nunn, who works as a district facilitator for CEP.
"He started talking to me and asked me to consider working with this company," Tampa said in a phone interview Thursday. "I met the president and the regional vice president. I guess they were impressed enough with me to invite me to come to Atlanta and take a look at one of their schools."
He declined to comment further, saying he was unable to provide more details without permission from his new employer.
Tampa, who is 52, began his career in Pinellas in 1973 as a teacher at Meadowlawn Middle School. The district promoted him to assistant principal and transferred him to Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in 1993.
He served as assistant principal at Shore Acres Elementary for a year. He was promoted to principal in 1996 and transferred to North Shore Elementary. He worked there until 2000 when he came to Lakewood at an annual salary of $78,936.
Stephanie Cross, who became assistant principal at Lakewood shortly before Tampa arrived, called him "a delight."
"The moment he walked on the campus, there was a calmness," she said. "He encouraged us when we needed to be encouraged. He was a great source of inspiration to parents, teachers and kids."
Tampa made it a point to be visible on campus during his four years at the school, Cross said. A tireless crusader for children, he increased school resources in a time of budget cuts by encouraging community business partnerships. He created a summer reading program for struggling first- and second-graders and pioneered a salad bar in the school cafeteria to promote healthful eating.
Most recently, he began working with two other south Pinellas schools to secure a U.S. Department of Education grant to create an "attendance area magnet" open to children in Attendance Area A. Lakewood's share of the $6.4-million grant will create a medical science program at the school.
Cross said Tampa's departure will not affect the program's development.
"He laid the foundation," she said. "We'll move right ahead as if he were still here knowing this is what he wanted."
Raquel Russo, who oversees partnership development at the school, said she doubts Lakewood would have secured the grant without Tampa's efforts.
"Without him, a lot of things wouldn't have happened," she said. "He had a vision. He saw the potential and it happened."
School secretary Donna Cornetta, who has seen several principals come and go in the 28 years she has been at the school, said she will always remember Tampa's first day at Lakewood.
"He came in wearing a suit looking very distinguished," she said. "He immediately made us feel safe. Everyone took to him instantly."
While he will be missed, Cornetta said the staff is wishing him the best at his new job.
The firm that hired Tampa serves about 6,000 children in Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Panama City, Orlando and Richmond, Va. Tampa will serve as principal at the CEP school in Atlanta, which is in its third year of a five-year contract with the Atlanta Public Schools district.
Randle Richardson, the education firm's chief executive officer, said Tampa came to CEP's attention when he applied to be principal of the school the company will run in Pinellas. During the interview, Tampa indicated that he would like to retire to Atlanta at some point to be closer to family.
"It was just that simple," Richardson said.
Another Pinellas administrator, Tim Haley, interviewed along with Tampa. Haley has left Hamilton Disston School in Gulfport to head the new CEP school in Pinellas County.
Area superintendent Lewis Williams said he will begin interviewing candidates for Tampa's job on Tuesday. He expects to make his recommendation for a replacement to district superintendent Howard Hinesley on Wednesday.