Principal sad to leave Spring Hill Elementary

Published May 28, 2007

SPRING HILL - Spring Hill Elementary School's Parent-Teacher-Student Organization thought long and hard about the perfect gift for retiring principal John DiRienzo.

They settled on a scholarship that will bear his name.

The gift - an honor, in DiRienzo's mind - will provide at least $250 for a deserving high school student who formerly attended Spring Hill Elementary. This year's winner is Springstead High senior Michael Vowell of Spring Hill.

The story began, according to PTSO president Aimee Whitehead, when DiRienzo announced his retirement from the school district.

"We were brainstorming gift ideas - you know how you always search for the perfect gift for some occasion. What could we do for someone so loving and special? A pen set?" she said.

"It came out of nowhere. Karen Mancuso said ... scholarship."

DiRienzo, who will present the award at a luncheon this week, said it was an ironic decision because he and his wife have often kicked around the idea of funding a scholarship.

The PTSO made the decision to honor a graduating high school senior who had attended Spring Hill Elementary. The group recalled that Springstead and its principal, Susan Duval, stepped up several times this year to host Spring Hill Elementary events when major construction prevented the events from being held at the elementary campus.

"They were so good to us, we chose one of their students, a marvelous young man, to be the first recipient, " Whitehead said. "All the way around, it's been a win-win situation."

The PTSO met recently to rewrite its bylaws to provide for a permanent scholarship. It will be funded by membership dues and fundraising events and will be named the John DiRienzo Scholarship.

"I'll be sad to leave Spring Hill Elementary, " DiRienzo said. "I have made lifelong friends. This long-term honor is the best thing that could have happened."

DiRienzo has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in Hernando for 20 years at Parrott Middle and Brooksville, Moton and Spring Hill elementary schools. His plan was to retire from education, but in January, Spring Hill Christian Academy approached him, in need of a principal.

DiRienzo accepted the position, deciding he wasn't sure retirement was right for him just yet.

Meanwhile, he sent a congratulatory e-mail to Vowell and is looking forward to meeting the student at the scholarship presentation.

"I just found out I'm graduating with honors. It's been really hard work to do it, " Vowell said last week. "School is important in my family, and this scholarship plus my (state) Bright Futures award means a lot."

Vowell plans to attend Pasco-Hernando Community College for a year or two, then transfer to a four-year university once he decides on a major. Like lots of students, he finds the expense of going to college a challenge. He will live at home, work, and pay his own way.

"I am 100 percent dedicated to success, " he said. "I know buying a car and paying expenses won't be easy, but my parents are totally supportive and I'll get it done. Everyone is pulling for me."

Things have fallen into place for Whitehead and the PTSO. Though the presentation couldn't be scheduled on campus, Carrabba's Italian Grill volunteered to turn over its restaurant for a luncheon. Whitehead said manager Ben Eldridge arranged the event with discounts and special considerations.

Each year, Spring Hill Elementary will reach out to a local college-bound senior and lend a hand, according to Whitehead. It doesn't matter which high school; all are eligible.

"I think we scored a home run here, " she said. "The community supports us, and now we can give back."

Anyone wanting information about the John DiRienzo Scholarship program or Parent-Teacher-Student Organization membership may call Spring Hill Elementary School at 797-7030.