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Hillsborough’s Achievement Schools will lose their leader

Tricia McManus will become a deputy superintendent in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

TAMPA — The leader of Hillsborough County’s ambitious Achievement Schools project is leaving at the end of the school year for a job in North Carolina.

Tricia McManus has been appointed deputy superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

McManus said she did not seek out the job, has mixed feelings about leaving Hillsborough, and insisted on being able to remain in Hillsborough until the school year ends.

Her departure comes at a time of uncertainty, as Hillsborough is searching for a new superintendent to replace Jeff Eakins.

It was Eakins who in 2018 introduced the Achievement Schools project, which seeks to bring equity to a system that has pockets of high-poverty and high-minority schools showing disappointing results. It was Eakins who placed McManus, an assistant superintendent, in charge of the program, which serves 50 schools..

McManus said the Winston-Salem district faces challenges similar to Hillsborough, and that her job there will focus on the same equity issues. She said she looks forward to working for Winston-Salem superintendent Angela Hairston. “She always keeps kids first,” McManus said.

When asked if the leadership uncertainty in Hillsborough was a factor in her decision to leave, she said that it was.

"I have to be sure whoever I am working for is going to push the equity agenda," she said on Friday. "And not knowing did a play a part in that."

McManus, 51 joined the school district in 1990. She began her career as a fourth grade teacher at Forest Hills Elementary. She served as principal of Just Elementary when that school was on the outskirts of North Boulevard Homes, a large public housing complex in West Tampa. She later was promoted to a leadership development position before launching the Achievement Schools project.

In a letter to her colleagues this week, McManus expressed her commitment to the project and its goals.

“In the year 2019, it is hard to believe that we still have achievement gaps between different demographic groups of students,” she wrote. “It is hard to believe that most of our chronically under performing schools are serving students of color in our most marginalized communities. And it is hard to believe that we continue to have disparities and inequities that keep groups of students from showing what they are truly capable of and that is absolute greatness.”

Achievement, an expansion of Eakins' previous Priority and Elevate initiatives, struggled early on with teacher shortages and skepticism from leaders of the African American community.

The district responded with a bonus plan for teachers who accept jobs in the most disadvantaged schools.

McManus and her team also smoothed relationships with their most vocal critics.

Joe Robinson, second vice president of the NAACP's Hillsborough County branch, praised McManus on Friday and said he respects her desire to advance in her career.

“She put up with us, and now she’s leaving us?” He said. “It’s a void.”