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Oh, to be the boss again

Published February 1, 2007

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Joe Molloy, an assistant principal at Tampa's Sligh Middle School, laughs with students.

TAMPA - The assistant principal works his way down the halls of his inner-city middle school, checking in with kids who think they know him pretty well.

"Cheyenne, come here, buddy," says Joe Molloy, flagging down a kid between classes. "You back in school? You doin' all right? What's my birthday?"

"March 13, 1961," the kid shoots back. It's their ritual.

But there's a lot the kids don't know about Molloy. When they catch wind of his old life in New York, they're deeply skeptical. There's no way.

"You cappin'," accuses a boy named Yveael, suspecting a con.

"No, I ain't cappin'," Molloy says with a grin.

When eighth-grader Carlos Rosado hears what his assistant principal used to do, he wrestles with the idea, struggling to believe. Then he breaks into a huge smile.

"He did?" Carlos asks.

He did.

* * *

In 1986, a P.E. and science teacher from Tampa met a young woman named Jessica. They fell in love and got married.

The teacher left his job and went to work for Jessica's father - a tough boss, everyone agreed - at the family business in New York. He did well.

Within three years, Joe Molloy had risen through the ranks from intern to vice president in charge of the company's Tampa operations. And in 1992, with his father-in-law temporarily away from the company, he was named to the top job.

He made tough decisions, firing a top executive, hiring a new one, and then firing him too. Eventually, over a good steak at Iavarone's in Tampa, he hired the manager credited with returning the business to its former glory.

People followed the company closely, so everything Molloy did got a lot of attention. He even got his name in the papers.

"Molloy: Likeable Boss, Hard-working People Person," Newsday gushed in a headline.

But things were hard at home. Joe and Jessica, who had four children together, split up in 1997. Everyone understood that Molloy couldn't remain in the family business.

He sold back his stake in the company, returned to his hometown, and found another teaching job.

* * *

Molloy's office at Sligh Middle School has no reminders of his days in New York - no pictures, no news clippings. He says he has no need for such displays.

His attention is on other things.

On this Wednesday afternoon, there's a runaway girl who has been living at a shelter and getting into trouble, a dozen boys noisily insisting they didn't steal an MP3 player, and a tearful, parentless boy who mouthed off to one teacher too many.

"He has a hard life," Molloy says with feeling, handing his phone to an assistant. "Here's the grandmother. Nice lady."

He heads outside to oversee the noisy changing of classes and get a burst of positive energy from the kids.

"He's a good assistant principal," seventh-grader Iasha Garrett confides. "He's the best. He understands where we're coming from."

But there's something in Molloy that longs to be the boss again.

He has applied for superintendent jobs around the country, including openings in Hernando County and Toledo. He lists his former father-in-law, George, as a reference.

Molloy will face competition from sitting superintendents with lots to say about the achievement gap and dropout reduction. He may also be asked about his tenure as principal at Tampa's St. Patrick Catholic School (some felt he did a poor job handling the finances; he says the place was growing beyond its means).

But he did run that business in New York.

Molloy wants to manage schools the same way, surrounding himself with classy employees who dominate the competition. People like that promising young kid he hired right out of high school in 1992.

A kid named Derek.

Derek Jeter.

For five years in the 1990s, the assistant principal of Sligh Middle School ran the New York Yankees for George Steinbrenner. And he has a 1996 World Series ring to prove it.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 11:33:14]

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