Adrian Anthony sensed his mission in life while growing up in south St. Petersburg.
"I went to Melrose Elementary," Anthony, now 42, recalled of the perennially struggling Pinellas County school that serves primarily low-income, minority children. "It was about the same as it has been. I didn't understand the hierarchy, but I said, 'I want to help somehow. I want to change this.'"
He acknowledges not knowing what "this" was at the time.
As he embarks as his first principal job, assigned to long under-performing Hudson Elementary, Anthony is more certain.
"This" is about improving children's lives through education, providing equitable services and opportunities so they can overcome obstacles on their way to success. It means working not only with the students, but also with the staff, families and community to bring meaningful change.
"Every day you change a life," he said.
Anthony recognized, too, that he will be a high-profile role model for a group of students that has long been underrepresented in the educators who work in their schools, both in Pasco County and nationally.
He is Pasco County's first black male principal appointed since the 1970s and, by all accounts, the third ever. The district has three black women leading schools.
Nationwide, black men account for 3.2 percent of all public school principals, while black students comprise 14 percent of enrollment. In Pasco, the percentage of black students has increased from 6.7 percent in 2014 to 7.6 percent in 2019, as the overall student population has surged.
A recent report showed that children in charter schools are more likely to have black teachers than those in traditional public schools. It's important because, according to a number of studies, black students perform better academically and get in trouble less often when they have black educators.
Other students also can benefit from seeing a diverse range of educators who bring a wider range of backgrounds and approaches to school.
Community leaders praised Anthony's promotion and said they hoped it would set a path for more leadership positions for men of color. A handful of other black men hold assistant principal posts in the district.
Superintendent Kurt Browning noted Pasco's growing diversity, though he mentioned the county remains "pretty white." He said the district's administrative team needs to reflect the changing demographics.
"I would love to have the opportunity to appoint more African-Americans and Latinos in positions of leadership," Browning said. "We need to be conscious of it."
At the same time, he added, the most important priority is to place the "very best administrators" into the schools, regardless of race. On that front, he said, Anthony fit the bill.
Anthony said he believes his passion for helping kids and communities transcends ethnicity.
"We are human beings," he said.
Anthony remembered attending Jefferson High School in Tampa as a teen and the "limitations" of where he felt comfortable going.
"I would not drive north of Gaither High School," about five miles south of the Pasco County line, he said. "I would never have thought I would end up in Pasco County."
He viewed his arrival — Anthony became an assistant principal at Sunlake High in 2016 — and his rise up the ranks as a sign of how things have changed.
"It shows how Pasco is growing and how opportunities are increasing," he said. "I've been very welcomed."
In approaching Hudson Elementary, which faces the possibility of another state-mandated turnaround plan if its test scores don't improve, he expects to take an approach similar to the one he and others used while working at Lakewood Elementary, another low-performing south St. Petersburg school.
That means focusing on student and community needs, creating a positive and productive environment, and not getting distracted by external factors.
"Sometimes the things that are not going well overshadow the great golden nuggets that are going on in that school and community every day," he said. "We have to make a decision to focus on what happens at school every day ... give 100 percent that day. We have to really be on the same page as a team. We have to look at what's happening today."
He expects to put a lot of attention into hiring several new teachers after about a third of the faculty left after former principal Dawn Scilex's transfer to Gulf Trace Elementary. One key will be in their positivity.
"For me, it's all about school culture," he said.
Coming from a background in secondary schools, as well as special education, Anthony said he sees the connections from grade level to grade level, as well as the ways to meet individual strengths and deficiencies. A self-professed "nerd," who loves to learn as much as embark on new adventures, the father of six expects to connect those passions to advance Hudson.
"We're going to have fun," Anthony said. "It will definitely be an adventure. And we will come out better."
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jeffsolochek.