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Starting a new tradition

Essrig Elementary principal anticipates the opportunities of becoming the first administrator of a new school in Keystone.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002


KEYSTONE -- For Debra Veranth, being a good principal means being a good communicator.

That's a quality she has focused on since becoming principal at Essrig Elementary, and she plans to keep working on it at her new job as principal of the new Bryant Elementary in Keystone.

"When I first came to Essrig four years ago, our school improvement survey went to teachers, parents and students," Veranth said. "Every one of the items that we asked for input on -- instructional, safety concerns and communication -- we scored very high on. But we had to have a goal so we took the lowest which was communication. So for four years we've really been working on communication, both internal and external."

Now, the school has a student-run FM radio station, a Web site

(www.essrig.com), a beefed-up newsletter for parents, and a weekly bulletin for teachers. Veranth connects with her youngest students (kindergarteners and first-graders) with regular "Bedtime Stories with the Principal," sessions. Everyone comes in their pajamas and slippers and Veranth reads the kids an evening bedtime story.

Veranth said she has always encouraged her teachers and staff to "seek out new ventures and new challenges." She was following her own advice when she applied for the new principal job at Bryant.

"I have a little bit of an art background, I feel I'm creative," said Veranth, 48. "To actually, physically do something like this -- molding and creating a school -- is terribly exciting."

It also means that Veranth will forever be linked to this institution's tradition. "You become a part of the history of that school," she said. "I know I'm a part of Essrig's history, but the most impactful person at the school would be the first principal."

Veranth has been with the school district since she was hired as a teacher at Dunbar Elementary in 1979. She became assistant principal at Broward Elementary in 1987, was appointed principal at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary in 1992 and took her current job at Essrig in 1998.

Veranth, originally from Vermont, now lives in Odessa. She earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Central Florida and two master's degrees at the University of South Florida.

"I felt education was a way to voice that creativity I have in me," Veranth said. "Every teacher has to be on stage. You have to be more exciting than TV to hold their attention. This profession offered me that challenge. And becoming a principal has afforded me the opportunity to share that with teachers, that creativity and high spirit."

Veranth said she hopes to share that spirit with her new staff at Bryant, which opens in August. "I'm just really excited about going," Veranth said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

-- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

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