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Three new principals announced for Pasco County schools

Among them is the district’s first black male school leader in nearly 50 years.
Adrian Anthony, Jeff Morgenstein and Jason Joens are appointed principals of Hudson Elementary, Gulf High and Fivay High, respectively. [Photos courtesy of Pasco County school district]
Published Jun. 13
Updated Jun. 14

Three Pasco County schools on Thursday learned who their new principals will be for the fall, while a fourth found out that its long-time leader will depart.

Among the changes came a move to diversify the district upper echelons, with Pasco’s first black male principal appointment since the 1970′s.

Adrian Anthony, an assistant principal at Sunlake High since 2016, was named to head Hudson Elementary after the departure of Dawn Scilex, who transferred to Gulf Trace Elementary. Anthony, who holds two degrees from Florida A&M University and is pursuing his doctorate, was an elementary school assistant principal and Title I specialist in Pinellas County before moving to Pasco.

Most important in the decision was Anthony’s ability and experience, superintendent Kurt Browning said.

“Adrian had some turnaround experience in Pinellas,” Browning said. “And, he’s a good guy.”

Jeff Morgenstein, the assistant principal for International Baccalaureate at Land O’Lakes High the past seven years, was named principal at Gulf High School, which also has an IB program. He replaces Kim Davis, who announced her retirement shortly after classes ended.

Morgenstein said he was “proud and honored” to be selected for the job, and said he looked forward to the opportunity to do good things for Gulf and its community.

A principal’s post means more work, but “it’s the right work and it’s good work,” said Morgenstein, who also has taught at Land O’Lakes and overseen the ESOL/foreign languages department at the district level.

Said Browning: “It’s high time that Jeff became a principal.”

Jason Joens, principal of Gulf Middle, will take over Fivay High School, replacing Christina Stanley after her transfer to Zephyrhills High. Joens, who previously served as River Ridge Middle principal for 11 years, has been credited for a major turnaround of Gulf Middle’s academic performance and campus climate.

“They needed literally to reculture that school. I accepted that opportunity,” Joens said. “The idea is to take that same passion and excitement, and position that at Fivay. ... This presents me with the opportunity to change the lives of so many students and families. I feel confident we’re going to be headed in the right direction.”

He added that the time was right for him to move, in order to give Gulf’s next principal the chance to shape its foray into IB Middle Years, which enters a planning year in the fall.

Browning said Joens did “remarkable” things for Gulf Middle, establishing systems that put the school on a path for success. He expected much the same as Joens heads to Fivay.

Also seeking a professional change was Kara Merlin, the principal of Calusa Elementary School for nearly a decade. Hoping to transition to a high school leadership role, she accepted take Anthony’s assistant principal job at Sunlake as a step toward that next goal.

Anthony is the first black male named to lead a school in the county since Melvin Dennard was made principal of Moore-Mickens Middle School in 1974, according to several sources. The district currently has three black female principals.

“I’d like to complement the leadership,” said Imani Asukile, director of Pasco-Hernando State College’s global and multicultural awareness and equity services. “I hope this opens the way to create opportunities for other men of color to advance in the school system.”

Anthony was on vacation and not available for an interview. He sent a written statement through the district student achievement office, saying he was excited about the opportunity ahead.

“I grew up in a community not too different than Hudson, and that drives my passion for lifting the lives of students who don’t always have everything they need,” he stated. “Our focus will be on giving our students every opportunity to be successful every day.”

The Calusa and Gulf Middle principal jobs, along with the Land O’Lakes High assistant principal position, have been advertised on the district website.

Note: This post has been updated to include quotes from superintendent Kurt Browning.

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