Hernando schools hires longtime principal as new safety director

Jill Renihan, Hernando County director of safe schools
Jill Renihan, Hernando County director of safe schools
Published August 6 2018
Updated August 6 2018

Hernando County schools announced a longtime administrator as its new director of school safety on Monday, more than a month after the state's July 1 deadline to do so.

Jill Renihan, principal of Brooksville Elementary School since 2013, will take over the position on Aug. 13, the first day of the new school year. She will oversee schools safety and security, as required by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, also known as SB 7026, signed into law in March.

"The ideal director of safe schools would need a multi-dimensional skill set that included school leadership and deep understanding of mental health interventions," school superintendent John Stratton said in a press release. "Jill has both and we are fortunate and grateful to have her step into this role."

The new legislation, prompted by the February school shooting in Broward County that left 17 dead, required much of Florida's 67 school districts, including the designation of a safety and security specialist by July 1, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Hernando acted fast to meet another state requirement to post armed officers in every school, adding 10 school resource officers less than two weeks after the shooting. But Renihan's appointment comes long after other districts hired a school safety administrator.

MORE: Florida's sobering new focus on school security challenges educators to protect but not stoke fear

The state requirements for the job say the person appointed must have experience in either school administration, school security or law enforcement.

Although Renihan's experience as a principal qualifies her for the job, her lack of experience in security work sets her apart from her counterparts in other districts.

In Pasco County, for example, School Board members chose retired U.S. Marine Chris Stowe for the same job over more than 80 applicants who included university police officers, former Secret Service agents and criminal investigators.

Only two or three people were interviewed for the job in Hernando, said School Board Chairman Mark Johnson. Officials have not voted on Renihan's appointment, he said.

Johnson added that while is confident in Renihan's ability to do the job, "somebody with a little more law enforcement or security experience … would have been a better choice."

"Does it bother me a little bit? Yeah," he said. "But it's an administrative position, not a front-line position … so I think she'll be fine."

In the district press release, Renihan, who previously worked as a behavior specialist in the district,  called the new position a "unique opportunity."

Not only will we satisfy the spirit of the law, but we can empower principals and give them ownership over school safety," she said. "With ongoing conversations, I believe we can elevate their awareness and help principals enhance their comprehensive security plan."

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.