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  1. Education

Hernando school leaders name interim principal at Moton Elementary

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District named veteran administrator Marvin Gordon as temporary principal at troubled Moton Elementary School this week, while pushing back against the idea that the sudden departure of his predecessor, Jamie Young, is a sign of a districtwide talent drain.

As her reason for leaving without the standard notice last week, Young cited a lack of resources at the school, where the state grade dropped from a C to a D last year. The Brooksville school also has a high percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and is home to several classrooms for emotionally troubled or physically or intellectually disabled children.

Gordon, 62, formerly served as principal at several schools and had come out of retirement to run a computer lab at Endeavor Academy, a school for at-risk students.

In addition to appointing Gordon, superintendent Lori Romano wrote an email Tuesday to Moton faculty and staffers, saying she and deputy superintendent Gina Michalicka would spend several days at the school later in the week to "gather your thoughts regarding current needs and request your input" into the qualities needed for the next principal.

A committee that includes parents and teachers at the school will interview and help choose the next principal, the email said, with the goal of hiring a permanent replacement by the end of the month.

Young said she was glad to hear of the district's actions.

"My resignation did what I intended it to do, which is to force (district leaders) to do something," she said.

While Romano said Tuesday she was shocked by Young's decision to leave, she shouldn't have been, Young said. She said she had been talking to district-level administrators about her concerns since shortly after being appointed in May, when she replaced a previous principal who had been removed after an investigation found several policy violations at the school.

Young's departure followed the sudden resignation of former deputy superintendent Eric Williams, as well as the retirement of several veteran principals in recent years. Since her arrival three years ago, Romano also declined to renew contracts of several district-level administrators, including three former assistant superintendents.

Young, along with two school board members, said last week the situation raises concerns about the number of experienced administrators in the district.

Romano addressed that issue during the school board's informal meeting Tuesday, saying that many districts are dealing with a loss of seasoned principals, partly because of baby boomer retirements.

In her time as superintendent, she has instituted programs to encourage teachers to take on leadership roles, she said, and only three principals have not had their contracts renewed because of poor performance. Instead, she and two other school board members, Gus Guadagnino and Mark Johnson, blamed a public that is focused on bad news.

Romano also singled out "the media" for focusing on employee turnover.

"It doesn't matter that you decrease the dropout rate and increase the grad rate, and you have no budget cuts for the first time in 12 years," Romano said during the meeting, listing gains the district has made.

"It doesn't matter if you maintain a B (grade for the school district) when most of the surrounding districts have dropped a grade. … Instead of celebrating, we try to find a fly in the ointment."

Board members then talked about ways to stem the negative public comments that have come to dominate the beginnings of their meetings.

"I'd like to see the personal attacks stop," Johnson said.

Board chairman Matt Foreman, a lawyer, said the district is limited in its power to stop criticism of staffers or board members.

But during a workshop later in the day, the board voted to move ahead with a plan to divide citizen comment into two parts, limiting comments early in meetings to matters scheduled for discussion.

The move is to avoid delay in discussion of business items and the recognition of students, said district spokeswoman Karen Jordan.

But former district employee and unsuccessful School Board candidate Mario Littman said at Tuesday night's board meeting that the move was clearly designed to limit dissent by requiring parents to wait to express concerns.

"That's obviously what's going on," Littman said.

Contact Dan DeWitt at Follow @ddewitttimes.