A second Pasco County veteran educator has joined the growing race for the school district’s superintendency, saying the system needs someone in charge with daily classroom experience.
Hudson High principal David LaRoche, a 30-year district teacher and administrator, filed paperwork late Wednesday to challenge two-term incumbent Kurt Browning, who already has announced his reelection bid. Bayonet Point Middle School teacher Cynthia Thompson also has unveiled her campaign for the post.
All three are registered for the Republican primary in August.
“The issue is, he doesn’t have the experience of being in the schools,” LaRoche, 54, said of his boss. “He doesn’t know what that feels like ... so the issues are foreign to him.”
Before becoming superintendent, Browning worked as Florida secretary of state under two governors and as Pasco elections supervisor.
LaRoche noted that the job of teacher has become more stressful and demanding, and yet teacher morale in the district has decreased as “they say they don’t feel the district office cares about them. I know the principals feel the same way.”
Someone in charge who understands the daily requirements that educators face with their students would not recommend an idea such as eliminating planning periods so teachers can instruct an extra class each day, for example, LaRoche said, referring to Browning’s latest plan to boost pay by changing middle and high school teacher schedules.
“Teachers cannot afford to miss a beat,” he said, calling the proposal a “horrible idea.”
He also was critical of the current administration’s management style, which he suggested did not meet Browning’s early pledge of an upside-down pyramid with ideas flowing from the schools to the district office. Browning spoke often before and after his first election about the district being top-heavy under his predecessor, Heather Fiorentino, and made comments about listening to people in the schools as he flipped the organization, LaRoche recalled.
Change to a regional leadership approach soon followed, LaRoche acknowledged. But soon after, Browning reversed course and focused on a centralized administration “laden with administrators.”
“It happened over time without a lot of transparency or discussion about why it was happening,” LaRoche said, arguing that the shift gave even more control to some officials who don’t have intimate knowledge of how schools actually work.
One of the results, he contended, was stagnating performance and inaction. LaRoche said he wants to jumpstart the district by freeing its educators to do what they know is best for the students and community.
“I am very disappointed when he tells us we are a good district, but we are not a great district,” he said of Browning. “I disagree. I believe we are a great district, and we face some barriers.”
LaRoche moved to Pasco County in 1979, attending Bayonet Point Junior High and graduating from Hudson High, which he has led for the past 12 years. During his tenure, the school has increased its state grade from D in 2009 to a B, with a stretch of C’s in between.
LaRoche has not gone without controversy, though. He recently sparked the ire of School Board members when he told them that his school’s teachers struggled to engage students because they lacked adequate materials and curriculum.
He was speaking at the time on behalf of the district plan to add the more advanced Cambridge program to Hudson High.
Board member Colleen Beaudoin angrily responded that no amount of curriculum would change the outcomes if the school’s leadership could not figure out how to keep students interested.
With strong roots in the community and children in the school system, LaRoche said he had been thinking about running for superintendent since the last election in 2016. Much work must be done, he said, to propel the district ahead. He feels he’s the “perfect person to take this district to the next level where it belongs.”
The last time a school principal challenged a sitting superintendent in the election was 1992, when Coy Pigman failed to oust Tom Weightman. Weightman later removed Pigman from his administrative team.
Pasco is the largest school district in the nation to elect its chief executive.