Rift mars a great high school

Published May 6, 2007

When Palm Harbor University High School opened in August 1996, it was the most expensive school the district had ever built, was its most technologically advanced campus, and had a curriculum designed to serve both average students assigned there and exceptionally bright young people who chose to enroll in the school's programs for the academically ambitious.

In the ensuing years, Palm Harbor University High delivered on its promise, becoming one of the premier public high schools in the state.

That's why the reports of discord at the school are disappointing. If ever a public high school had something to celebrate, it is Palm Harbor University High.

The school's recent "climate survey" showed that the faculty and staff at the school are unhappy, the St. Petersburg Times reported last month. There were dramatic drops in their satisfaction ratings in several categories compared to last year and previous years.

A major change in school leadership has occurred this school year. Herman "Doc" Allen, the former principal of Gibbs High School, assumed the principal's post at Palm Harbor University High at the beginning of this school year. New people were hired for several other top administrative posts at the school.

All of the new administrators are implementing approaches to the work that are familiar to them and that they believe will be positive at the school. However, the climate survey shows that the faculty is not responding well to the changes. Communication, or lack thereof, between the administration and the faculty also seems to be a sore point with survey respondents.

Some people at the school who have not warmed up to the new administration have participated in a whispering campaign against Allen, alleging that he was responsible for district administrators' having to help sort out problems at Gibbs High School this year - after Allen left.

The whispers only serve to distract and divide the Palm Harbor University school community. An incident late last month, in which racial slurs and other graffiti were painted on school structures overnight, has been a further distraction.

Palm Harbor University High has too much going for it to allow this kind of negativism. Change is always difficult. It takes time for newcomers to fit comfortably in the close embrace of a school community. While Allen should review his communications procedures to see if he can bring more openness to his administration, faculty members and staffers also need to make sure they have realistic expectations of the new team.

Both sides need to work out their differences dispassionately and professionally so they can start the next school year with determination to work well together.

Discord between the administration and faculty can filter down to students. Everyone who works at Palm Harbor University High should make it his or her goal to guard against that.