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The new leader of Westside Elementary began teaching there.

Three decades ago, Nancy Kesselring began her Florida teaching career as a rookie at Westside Elementary. Now, she is coming back to lead the school.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt has picked Kesselring for the principal post at Westside, a school rocked by controversy last year.

Though she has deep roots in the Hernando County school district, the 55-year-old Kesselring is now assistant principal at Fox Hollow Elementary in New Port Richey. The Westside position will be her first top spot.

"Excited doesn't even begin to sum up my feelings," the Spring Hill resident said Tuesday. "It is a dream finally realized."

Blavatt selected Kesselring over the other finalist, Jamie Young, assistant principal at Powell Middle School. A third finalist, an out-of state applicant, withdrew after landing another position.

"She offered the right fit," Blavatt said of Kesselring. "She's got great experience. She has a real enthusiasm for education and kids, and her record demonstrates she's all about teaching and learning."

A native of New Jersey, Kesselring taught for a few years at a Bahamas mission school before arriving at Westside in 1982. She moved to J.D. Floyd Elementary in Spring Hill in 1986.

Over the next 17 years at Floyd, Kesselring taught kindergarten, first and second grades and served as a media specialist and reading resource teacher. She earned a master's degree in childhood education along the way and in 2003 was promoted to assistant principal.

After four years and a couple of failed attempts to land a principal post in Hernando, she took the job at Fox Hollow with hopes that Pasco, as a larger district, would offer more opportunity.

It's a happy, unforeseen twist to get the job at Westside, Kesselring said, and while she doesn't plan on retiring anytime soon, she hopes to be able to finish her career there. She said her time at Fox Hollow - a Title I community school like Westside - will serve her well.

Kesselring said she is aware of the tension at Westside earlier this year when teachers wrote to the superintendent complaining about principal Dominick Ferello's leadership. Ferello, formerly principal at Explorer K-8, was in his first year at Westside after taking the place of longtime principal Charles Johnson.

Teachers said Ferello bullied staff and made unreasonable demands. Ferello denied those accusations, saying that teachers were unwilling to change the status quo. He volunteered for a reassignment and Blavatt moved him to the vacant assistant principal position at Eastside Elementary in Brooksville.

Kesselring, who is married and has a grown son, said her calm personality and sense of humor should help the school heal. "I have found (those qualities), coupled with my people skills, helps me be successful wherever I am," she said.

Despite a high number of students from low-income families, Westside performs well year after year and earned an A in Florida's state accountability system last year. Even with the turmoil this past school year, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores remained high, according to results released Tuesday.

"This is a high-performing group of teachers, so they don't necessarily need heavy-handed direction, they just need leadership and the freedom to do what works well for them," Blavatt said.

That sounds fine to Kesselring.

"That's a wonderful position as an administrator to come into," she said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or