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Chamberlain principal breaks another barrier

The school's first woman student president in 1969 is now its first woman principal.

By JOHN PETRIMOULX
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002


NORTH TAMPA -- Early this year Henry Washington was named principal of his alma mater, Middleton High School, which is being rebuilt in East Tampa.

Last week it was Chamberlain assistant principal Pamela Peralta's turn, as she was tapped to replace Washington as principal of her own alma mater.

"Henry and I used to talk about how great it would be if one day we could both lead our schools," she said.

"It is the culmination of a dream. I was Chamberlain's first female student government president in 1969, and now I'm the first female principal."

A year ago Peralta, 50, came back to the school to oversee curriculum enhancements, which include a comprehensive advanced placement (AP) program. Now, she says, the school can implement its vision of high academic achievement.

"My expectation is for us to be a school of excellence with a good many merit scholars," she said.

Following perennial principal-of-the-year honoree Washington, Peralta admits, is a tall order. But she says they share the same philosophy: "We love kids. Number one, we believe you must be visible to them in the school."

Where Washington made discipline a priority when he arrived five years ago, Peralta insists the gains will not be lost. "We just don't allow inappropriate behavior here," she said. "We are demanding and tough but we're fair."

Chamberlain School Advisory Council chair Vicki Harber met Peralta at Tampa Bay Tech, when Peralta was in charge of magnet curriculum there.

"She has a rapport with the kids," Harber said. But it was Peralta's take-charge attitude that Harber most remembers.

"One time my son didn't have books for three weeks," she said. "It seemed no one could do anything to help him. When he finally went to her, she took care of it the same day."

Peralta also has held leadership positions at Wharton High and Sligh Middle School.

She becomes Chamberlain principal as the school seeks to hold on to more area students who are being lured away by magnet programs and private schools. In addition to the new AP program, the school has added a veterinary science program.

Peralta also wants to focus on improving student leadership, teacher training and alumni ties.

"We plan to establish a community service requirement in the AP program," she said. "We are also increasing teacher training to stay current."

Renovations of the 40-year-old school, now nearly complete, include a new computer network, a computer-aided design lab and a fully equipped commercial kitchen to enhance the culinary arts program.

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