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School wipes its slate clean

Carrollwood Elementary was in disarray because of clashes between the principal and assistant principal. Both are removed.

Published May 2, 2006

TAMPA - The tensions had been brewing for months at once-proud Carrollwood Elementary School.

Some parents stopped volunteering or quit their leadership posts on committees. Others pulled their children out, enrolling them in other schools. The principal and assistant principal, by several accounts, had very public disagreements.

A group of parents implored superintendent MaryEllen Elia to intervene.

Elia sent a 16-person team to evaluate the school in April. On Monday, she set the school on a new course.

Gone were both principal Jan King and assistant principal Jamie Whitlow, relieved of their duties immediately and permanently. The women spent Monday at the school district's downtown headquarters meeting with top brass, figuring out what if any job they will have in the future.

"We felt there had to be a change in the culture," said Stephen Hegarty, Elia's spokesman. "So we're making moves at the top."

King, 57, started working at the school in 2001. Whitlow, 45, began there in 2004. Neither could be reached for comment.

Elia appointed longtime administrator Carolyn Luis, whose husband once led Carrollwood Elementary, as interim principal. She named Elizabeth Hastings, an administrative resource teacher at Edison Elementary, as interim assistant principal.

Debi Veranth, who led the Carrollwood Elementary evaluation team, said site visits and interviews with staff members, parents and students revealed a school in operational disarray.

"The two of them didn't get along at all," Veranth said of King and Whitlow. "You've also got a small group of parents who are very headstrong. They're either out to get one or the other. ... To be a healthy school, it has to be a happy environment."

In fairness, Veranth said, both leaders had to go.

Some did not agree.

Many teachers held King in high regard, said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Teachers told Clements that King backed them, and that parents had driven her out because of it.

Specifically, Clements said, King sided with teachers several years ago on how to spend incentive money that the school received for good Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test grades. "Most of the teachers are very unhappy about this," Clements said.

Parents who pressed for change, by contrast, suggested that Whitlow got the bum's rush. The problems stemmed from King's style of management, said Tracy Gordon, who transferred her youngest son from Carrollwood to Lake Magdalene Elementary rather than endure another year with the principal.

The school, she said, lost its "private school" feeling, which for years had made it a reason to buy homes in the neighborhood. She was hopeful the changes would turn things around.

"It's a shame she was allowed to stay so long," said Gordon. Of 14 elementary-age children on her block, only four attend Carrollwood, she said. "No business can survive poor leadership. It just goes to prove that a school can't either."

--Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or

[Last modified May 2, 2006, 02:32:34]

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