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Well-regarded principal abruptly leaves troubled Hernando elementary school

BROOKSVILLE — On Thursday morning, Moton Elementary School principal Jamie Young wore a T-shirt emblazoned with rainbow-colored letters spelling out the motto she adopted after taking over the troubled school in May:

"Good Vibes Only!"

It hasn't worked out that way.

Young abruptly resigned Tuesday, citing the need for more teachers and other resources for the school, which slipped from a grade of C to D last school year and was the subject of a district investigation that found a wide range of policy violations.

The school has two classrooms of children with severe behavioral or emotional problems, and several others for students with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Young said she resigned partly to draw attention to the inadequate help the district gives to such "high-needs" schools, and said the Hernando district's failure to address the concerns of principals is leading to a shortage of experienced administrators.

"This is not about me," she said in an interview Thursday. "This is about a principal in a high-needs school telling people there aren't enough resources to do the job, and nothing being done about it."

Young's last day was Friday, and the district has not yet named her replacement. In her resignation letter, she wrote that she could not give the standard two weeks' notice because remaining at the school would endanger her teaching license.

"It is my opinion that the safety of children and staff are at risk," she wrote.

In response to Young's letter, deputy superintendent Gina Michalicka wrote that Young had been allowed to pick her own assistant principal and secretary. The district provided a staffer to help teach exceptional students, a math coach and a higher level of funding from Title 1, which makes federal money available to high-poverty schools.

"Your assertion that the district team has not supported Moton rings hollow," Michalicka wrote.

She also criticized Young for putting "Moton students, family and staff into turmoil once again."

"Lies," Young said of Michalicka's response.

Young said she filled jobs that opened because of retirement and merely reallocated existing Title 1 funds. The district has been unable to fill the math coach job, she said; the aide assigned to the exceptional student classroom is required by the individual educational plan of one severely disabled student and is not available to help other students.

Even if the math coach job were filled, she said, it wouldn't come close to meeting the needs of classes filled with as many as 15 troubled or disabled children with a variety of learning abilities.

"We need teachers," she said.

Former Moton principal Mark Griffith and assistant principal Anna Jensen were removed in May, pending an investigation that found, among other violations, questionable accounting of standardized test attendance and an inadequate response to complaints of bullying.

But some supporters of Griffith, who now teaches at Hernando High School, said he was placed in a no-win situation because of the lack of resources and intense needs of students, more than 80 percent of whom are eligible for subsidized meals.

Partly because of such pressures and recent retirements, Young said, the district has a severe shortage of experienced principals.

"We have lost so many people that the overall impact is devastating to the organization," she said.

Superintendent Lori Romano disputed that in a written statement: "Our school district is fortunate to have a skilled cadre of caring and dedicated leaders and aspiring leaders."

Though School Board Chairman Matt Foreman agreed, he also said he was "shocked and disappointed" by Young's departure, "primarily because I think Jamie's a really good principal."

In addition to leading three different schools, Young has served as the district's executive director of teaching, learning and technology.

"We don't have a ton of administrators who can turn around schools like Moton," Foreman said, "and to lose one of them is difficult."

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com. Follow @ddewitttimes.

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