CLEARWATER - Gary Schlereth, the new principal at Countryside High School, knew relatively early in life what he wanted to do for a living: fill a gap.
"When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to help young people because I felt there was a need there," Schlereth said. "In my undergraduate years, it's what I wanted, to be a coach and a teacher."
Schlereth, 47, who took over from former principal Julie Janssen, who transferred to St. Petersburg High School, said he plans no immediate changes at his new workplace, preferring instead to just observe what the school's needs might be.
"I'm trying to get to know the teaching staff, the students and the community," Schlereth said. "I'm basically in the listening mode right now. I don't expect any big changes until I get a chance to look at all the processes involved in the school this summer. I (do) plan on refining some of the systems."
A native of Delphos, Ohio, Schlereth has taught in Pinellas County schools for nearly two decades, starting at Northeast High School, where he said he was the athletic coordinator and assistant football coach. From there, he took an assistant principal position at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, where he has served for nearly nine years.
It was comments from people at Dixie Hollins that helped propel Schlereth to the top of a list of nine applicants, said Trellis Poe, area office manager for Oscar Robinson, Area I superintendent. The selection process involved interviews with faculty at the prospective school, after which a committee of seven or eight people, including another principal and a parent, assessed the candidates.
"I don't know what made him stand out from all the others. I wasn't there, but I like him a whole lot," Poe said. "People from (Dixie Hollins) had glowing comments to make about him and from what I've seen so far, he's very delightful."
Dixie Hollins assistant principal Sadie Reed said Schlereth would make a great addition to Countryside.
"Mr. Schlereth is the epitome of everything that the county would want in a principal," Reed said. "He's very well aware of policies and tries in every way to make sure that they are enforced. Students come first to him. Countryside is lucky to have him."
Schlereth, on the job since Jan. 28, said he has known most of his life that he wanted to be in education. He graduated from Delphos St. John's High School in 1975, receiving a bachelor's degree from Defiance College in Ohio in 1979 and a master's degree from Bowling Green State University, also in Ohio, in 1980.
After graduation, he taught science in Marion, Ohio, until a door opened for him in Pinellas County in 1984.
"This is my 19th year in Pinellas County," Schlereth said.
He feels his move to Countryside will be a good one.
"I'm thankful to work with this community, which includes the parents, students, staff and faculty," Schlereth said. "They've all been very exceptional, and I feel it's a great opportunity to work with them."
Schlereth, who lives in St. Petersburg, is married to wife Sharon, a teacher at Shore Acres Elementary School. They have two children, son Nicholas, a freshman at Northeast High School, and daughter Natalie, a second-grader at Shore Acres Elementary.