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Principals do the switcheroo as district burgeons

By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002

Call it the "Principal Shuffle," but come the first day of school -- count them -- eight administrators will be changing hats.

Seven are featured below. Come time for deadline, No. 8 -- Jim Lane, an assistant principal at Centennial Middle School -- had not yet been informed that he was up for the job at Pasco Middle School.

Even school superintendent John Long seemed surprised at so many changes.

Get used to it.

"I figure there'll be seven or eight switches a year from now on," Long said. "Whenever you get a district this large, that's bound to happen."

In 1970, 9,000 students attended Pasco schools, Long said. That doubled to 18,000 in 1974 and prompted a hiring trend. Many of those hired during that time are retiring. Others are seeking other jobs. New schools are popping up, and the student population is at a whopping 52,000 -- the 13th largest in the state.

"We'll be seeing more of this in the future," Long said. "It's sort of a never ending story."

Gulf High School

Being able to laugh at yourself is a big part of Tom Imerson's philosophy. "That's part of the job sometimes," he said.

As evidence he offers up the collection of decorative roosters that adorn his new office. They were gifts from faculty, friends and students privy to a memo Imerson sent out years ago.

"I misspelled the word "roster' in a memo. I spelled it as "rooster,"' Imerson said. "From that day forward I haven't been able to live it down."

Imerson, who replaces the recently retired Cheryl Renneckar, is a familiar face at Gulf. Before his 16-month stint as principal at Hudson Middle, Imerson served as an assistant principal at Gulf High.

Although he says he enjoyed his time at Hudson Middle, Imerson, 56, is glad to be back.

He plans to put his 33 years of administrative experience to good use by rallying parental involvement.

"Parents and faculty are the most important resources we have," Imerson said. "Without parental support, most students don't do well."

Last year Gulf High earned a D from the state. Imerson plans to address that by identifying individual needs of all students, "not just those who did poorly on the FCAT."

Most important on his agenda is to foster a safe environment at Gulf.

"A lot of kids come from angry places out there and I want them to feel safe here. I want them to feel that they can get the help that they need here."

Back to School Advice: For students, educators and parents: "Be dedicated to setting high expectations and always strive to do your very best and beyond."

Hudson Middle School

Gerri Painter took one look at the Hudson Middle School campus and couldn't wipe the grin off her face.

"It's so beautiful here," Painter said. "And everyone has been so wonderful, from the bookkeeper to the plant manager, the teachers and other administrators."

The homemade cheesecake brought in by band director John Keon was also a nice welcome, said Painter, 55, who served as assistant principal at River Ridge and Ridgewood high schools before replacing Tom Imerson at Hudson Middle.

Improving the school's C grade is of utmost importance -- the school missed a B by just a couple of points -- as well as improving parent communication and student reading skills.

"There's so much visual stimulation out there," Painter said. "Students have gotten away from reading as an activity."

Painter, who has worked in education for 29 years, said she is eager to work with the middle school set.

"I like the kids at this age," Painter said. "They're so full of energy."

Back to School Advice:

For parents: "Stay involved. Stay informed. Even if your kids are saying you don't need to come to open house or a sporting event, you do."

For students: "Get involved in extracurricular activities. Volunteer, sign up for Odyssey of the Mind, join a school sport. Kids who are more involved tend to like school, have better attendance records and better grades."

Bayonet Point Middle School

The commute will certainly be easier for Rob Aguis, 39, who for 3 1/2 years has been making the trek from New Port Richey to Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

Aguis says he is up for the challenge of overseeing a new school, but will miss the folks at Weightman.

Before Weightman, Aguis served as an assistant principal at Seven Springs Middle School and Marchman Education Center.

It was after a coaching stint at Gulf Middle School, where Aguis taught marketing and technology, that he got a yen for administrating.

"I really liked teaching," Aguis said. "In the classroom you're able to affect a couple hundred students a year, but as an administrator you can affect literally thousands."

Aguis' main goals are to be a visible presence, to get to know the students and the staff, and to know the school's needs.

He plans to continue to enhance communication between the school and parents. Student Shadowing Days is a pet project that Aguis and former Bayonet Point principal Steve Salerno put together at their schools. Educational Parent Nights, focusing on reading and writing skills, are also on the agenda.

"If children can read," Aguis said, "they can do anything they set their minds or hearts to."

Back to School Advice: "Parents really need to stay involved. Parent involvement doesn't stop at middle school. It's real important at this transitional time to know what's going on, both socially and academically." Note: Those wanting to get involved should plan to attend the open house Aug. 20.

Weightman Middle

Steve Rinck was doing double duty at two schools this past week in an effort to get things tidied up at Pasco Middle School while moving into his new office at Weightman Middle School.

"In the dark of the night I've been moving boxes over to Weightman," Rinck said.

Some might see it as a lateral move, but Rinck is eager to use his strengths and skills in a new place.

"There's always new challenges with a new job, a new school," Rinck said. "I look forward to that."

Rinck is fairly familiar with the campus because his wife, Nancy, helped open the school as an assistant principal.

"I feel a special kinship to Weightman," he said.

Rinck has been an assistant principal at Pasco and Bayonet Point middle schools. He also served at the district level as science supervisor.

"The first thing I need to do is understand more about the (Weightman) school community and the previous improvements that have been made," Rinck said. "I'm excited about the change and really (eager) to get going."

Back to School Advice: "Maintain a love of learning at home as well as at school. Keep your children engaged in educational pursuits. Encourage cultural visitations -- the movies, nature parks, museums. Go with your kids so they see support from both ends, school and home. Make sure they see that the "three R's," so to speak, aren't limited to the classroom."

Richey Elementary

Providing stability for her new staff is a top priority for Allison Hoskins, 31, who takes the helm from Christine Denmark. Denmark served as principal for just one year at Richey Elementary before moving out of state.

"I want everyone to feel comfortable here. I want to enhance a caring community. I want to become a part of this community, to get to know the staff, students and families here," Hoskins said. "For a school to be successful it's important to involve parents and businesses."

Hoskins, who has been an assistant principal at Trinity and Gulfside elementary schools, hopes to see more students involved in enhancement programs such as Odyssey of the Mind and a successful after-school drama program directed by Renee Angilella and Sclena Brantley.

Character education and a literacy program will be emphasized.

"I'm a real lover of children's literature, Hoskins said. "Especially Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit.

Back to School Advice: "Try to integrate everyday activities into teachable moments. Involve your children when you're cooking a meal. Have them write down a recipe and measure ingredients. Teach them about budgets when you go to the grocery store. Have them help figure out which product is the best buy. Play games in the car that can help your children learn to read. Have your children look for letters and words on the signs and billboards. Be a teacher as well as parent."

Wesley Chapel Elementary

Cynthia Harper will realize a lifelong dream as principal of the brand-new Wesley Chapel Elementary School.

"I always wanted to open my own school," Harper said. "When I was a kid I used to round up the local kids to play school during the summer break. I would save up my allowance money for supplies; I used to drive my sister crazy."

Harper, 50, has held administrative positions at Sand Pine, Pasco, Calusa and Richey. She started out as a teacher at Pasco and Quail Hollow elementary schools.

"My main goal is to have a smooth opening, to help everyone acquainted, to get the children acclimated to their new surroundings."

Back to School Advice: "Put a name tag on every child and make sure the teacher knows how that child is getting home. Come to Meet the Teacher Day (countywide registration) so you can get familiar with the facility. If your child is going to ride the bus this year, let them ride the bus that first day. Try not to panic if the buses are late that first day; things traditionally run behind. We want to make sure every child is where they're supposed to be, and that takes time."

Chester Taylor Elementary

David Scanga, 47, said he has some big shoes to fill at Chester Taylor Elementary -- those of Frances McCrimmon, who retired at the end of the school year. In five years she built a great staff and created a good, happy school environment, Scanga said.

Still, he's up for the challenge and happy to be settling in after holding assistant principal positions at West Zephyrhills Elementary and Lake Myrtle.

"Every day I learn something new," Scanga said. "That's the thrill and excitement that comes from working in education."

Scanga, who has worked as a behavioral specialist at Richey Elementary and as a guidance counselor Africa, Saudi Arabia and Japan, hopes to encourage good working relationships among teachers, students, administrators and businesses.

Back to School Advice: To parents: "Help your children establish a real love for learning. Get your kids engaged in something that catches their fancy. Parents need to pay attention to their kids and get involved. That's not easy and it takes time and effort. Contact your child's teacher. Find out what the current theme is in the classroom. That way you can get more information from your children. It will make it easier to ask the right questions so your child will share their school day with you."

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