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His legacy is built of more than bricks and mortar

Published Jan. 5, 2007|Updated Jan. 5, 2007

Gordon MacLeod's favorite part of the day is last period at Tampa Preparatory School, where he's the head of school. That's when he gets to do what he loves: teach.

"I enjoy the relationships with the kids," said MacLeod, 58, who teaches advanced math to seniors who have aced the required high school math courses. "I really bond with them."

As for his least favorite jobs?

Expelling students or firing employees. He prefers to give second chances. But sometimes, chances aren't an option, as in November, when MacLeod fired a physical education teacher after a complaint that he asked girls to try on swimsuits during gym classes.

MacLeod has been head of school at Tampa Prep for nine years. He will retire at the end of June, handing over the reins to Kevin Plummer, head of the middle school at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia.

MacLeod arrived at a school bulging at its seams in 1998. The independent high school began in 1974 in rooms leased from the University of Tampa that were formerly horse stables. When MacLeod arrived, 517 middle and high school students were housed on a campus built for 280.

They were cramped, but MacLeod was struck by how happy and outgoing Tampa Prep students were.

"That's really what made me want to come here," he said.

When he interviewed for the job, he remembers asking the board of trustees whether the biggest challenge for the school was building a new campus. No, they told him. That wouldn't happen for 10 years.

But the next year construction plans were under way. Each step of the way, the board of trustees granted the requests he brought to them.

A dome over the library designed by the architect. Teacher-designed science labs. A glass room for seniors to hang out. A black-box theater covered with black granite.

No request was denied.

Construction of the 150,000-square-foot complex was completed in 2002. Tampa Prep now enrolls 675 students and had to turn away qualified students last year for the first time.

"We have an image in the community of being tough academically," MacLeod said.

In his office, before and after aerial photos of the campus hang next to his desk.

He considers this new campus his legacy at the school.

MacLeod's day begins when he arrives about 7 a.m., passing by clusters of early arriving students. By the time they graduate, he knows most of them by name. When he leaves at 7 p.m., he passes more students.

"They just won't leave," he said. "Kids want to be here. It's an interesting environment."

Coming from a background of teaching - he has taught since 1972, first in his native Scotland, then at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts - earns him respect from other teachers. "I'm in the trenches with them," he said.

At the end of the school year, MacLeod and his wife, Susan, will leave Tampa for a house in Cape Cod, which they bought in 1984. They plan to spend their retirement splitting time between there and their Bradenton condominium.

MacLeod may join his wife as a volunteer to help adults learn to read. They've also talked about volunteering with Meals on Wheels.

Before retiring, Susan taught community college math. One son, Alexander, is a veterinary radiologist. Their daughter Jane teaches fifth-grade math, and their other son, Douglas, teaches high school history.

MacLeod doesn't anticipate growing bored and wouldn't be surprised to find himself back at a school.

"I really enjoy the classroom," he said. "That's what I will miss."

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

PROFILE

Gordon MacLeod

Job: Head of school at Tampa Prep from 1998 through June.

Age: 58

Home: Parkland Estates

Family: Wife, Susan; two sons, Alexander and Douglas; and one daughter, Jane.

Golf: Learned to play as a child of 4 or 5 in his native Scotland.

Bagpipes? No, but his uncle plays.

Legacy: Oversaw the expansion and construction of Tampa Prep's new digs.

Tip: Never turn down an invite from him for dinner. He specializes in rich gourmet dinners with precisely measured ingredients, such as Steak au Poivre.