Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. The Education Gradebook

At Tarpon Springs High, staff turnover raises questions

School Board chairperson Eileen Long has called for a review of the school’s leadership.
Pinellas School Board chairperson Eileen Long wants answers to why four Tarpon Springs High School assistant principals quit their jobs over the past year.
Pinellas School Board chairperson Eileen Long wants answers to why four Tarpon Springs High School assistant principals quit their jobs over the past year. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 30|Updated Jun. 30

Four assistant principals resigned from Tarpon Springs High over the past year, the latest a week ago. Three started the 2021-22 academic year at the campus, and one joined the school in January as a replacement.

The school also has had about two dozen teachers depart, including its current Teacher of the Year.

Pinellas School Board chairperson Eileen Long is asking questions.

Pinellas County School Board chairperson Eileen Long
Pinellas County School Board chairperson Eileen Long [ Pinellas County Schools ]

“It’s really getting disheartening,” said Long, a retired teacher, who has called on the district administration to review turnover at Tarpon Springs High and a handful of other schools. “There’s got to be something wrong. What is it?”

Lori Hoag, who taught at Tarpon Springs for 33 years until this spring, blamed principal Leza Fatolitis, who took over after a scandal involving the previous principal.

“She wasn’t bad when she first started. She listened to people,” said Hoag, who also served as the school’s Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association liaison for about 20 years. “It seems that as time has gone by, she believes she is the only one that knows how to do anything.”

Through a school district spokesperson, Fatolitis declined to comment.

Hoag is not the only one to have concerns about the principal.

In this image from a Pinellas County Schools video, Tarpon Springs High principal Leza Fatolitis speaks during the school's commencement ceremony on June 3, 2021, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
In this image from a Pinellas County Schools video, Tarpon Springs High principal Leza Fatolitis speaks during the school's commencement ceremony on June 3, 2021, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [ YouTube ]

In an email to Hoag, former longtime football coach Cedric Hill, who was fired from his position, wrote that Fatolitis was “backstabbing and unfit to be a principal anywhere.”

“She hides behind everybody, makes them do her dirty work for her,” Hill wrote. “She has no control of the school.”

In an interview, Hill called the school a “diamond in the rough” that’s in the wrong hands. He noted the school has seen a steady stream of assistant principals, counselors, coaches and staff every year.

“Everybody knows. It’s no secret,” he said. ”My question is, why has Pinellas County taken so long to take action at Tarpon High?”

Former assistant principal Shawn Skelly, who resigned his job in May and left the district, echoed the sentiment in an email to Fatolitis that has circulated widely throughout the county. He confirmed he wrote it, and would not comment further.

“You are the most manipulative, selfish person I have ever met in my life. Manipulative above all else: It’s like a sport to you, honestly it’s impressive,” wrote Skelly, who spent five years as an assistant principal at the campus. “You looked us in the eyes at an admin team meeting three years ago and started with, ‘I don’t care about your happiness.’ What kind of leader says that?

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“I should have walked away then.”

Skelly went on to write that Fatolitis used him to get rid of Hill and another employee, then “went in on me like a snake. You are a miserable person that I am excited to not have in my life anymore.”

A year earlier, Skelly sent a two-page letter to area superintendent Christen Gonzalez in which he accused the principal of ordering him to falsify a student discipline record, adding that he believed he would face retaliation for refusing.

District spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said Gonzalez did not respond to the letter in writing, but had a phone conversation with Skelly. The district initially said Gonzalez was not available to comment.

In an email sent after this story appeared online, Gonzalez stated that she takes all concerns seriously and investigates them. “I have received and reviewed the concerns of these individuals, but have also received compliments about the school, its arts and culinary programs, football program, faculty and administration,” she wrote, offering no further explanation.

The district provided links to recent climate surveys for the school, suggesting some improvement in the school’s environment over the last year. Though response was limited, results showed larger percentages of employees said administrators made decisions in the best interest of students in 2022 (53%) than in 2021 (36%).

The numbers for Tarpon Springs were the lowest among the district’s high schools.

Two other assistant principals who started the year with Skelly — Vincent Natoli and Erin Zitka — also quit before year’s end and left the district. Both declined to comment.

Word spread late June 23 that Natoli’s replacement, Austin Smith, had resigned six months after leaving the Hillsborough school district to take the job. In his resignation letter, Smith wrote that he was returning to Hillsborough.

“Despite loving to work with all of you here at Tarpon, taking this opportunity is what is best for my family overall,” wrote Smith, who did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Hoag said she worried that students and families are suffering because of the principal’s actions, which have damaged morale among faculty and staff.

The school’s reputation has become well-known throughout the county, Hoag added, making it such that current district employees don’t want to go there. That’s why the school’s most recent assistant principal hires have come from outside, she suggested.

Incoming superintendent Kevin Hendrick
Incoming superintendent Kevin Hendrick [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Incoming superintendent Kevin Hendrick, who officially begins the job Friday, has said repeatedly that he hopes to focus on improved school culture and climate during his tenure. He did not respond to requests for comment about Tarpon Springs High.

Long said the information she has received so far worried her. She planned to continue pressing for details.

“If we’ve had this situation and there’s a reason, fine. Don’t hide it from me,” Long said. “Talk to me about it, and maybe I can help. Something is just not right.”

• • •

Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!

Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge