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Popular leader lost, gained
Seven Springs' principal is tapped to head up the new Crews Lake Middle.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 28, 2008
Chris Christoff will be the principal of Crews Lake Middle School when it opens later this year.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
SHADY HILLS - The staff of Seven Springs Middle School wants the parents and students at Crews Lake Middle, which opens in the fall, to know how lucky they are to have Chris Christoff as a principal.
"He's just an all-around good guy," said Seven Springs media technology assistant Carol Ryan, who has worked with Christoff since 1996. "He's done a fantastic job. Everybody loves working with him. And I'm not just saying that."
Guidance counselor Dawn Uekerus offered similar high praise.
"He's fabulous," she said. "He's very visible. He's caring. ... He's a good manager of people and, to me, that's hard to find."
They and others were not surprised that superintendent Heather Fiorentino tapped Christoff, 36, to open Pasco County's newest middle school. Only disappointed.
Christoff has mixed feelings about leaving Seven Springs Middle. It's the only place he has ever worked - first as a social studies teacher straight out of the University of South Florida, then as assistant principal and finally as principal.
"The fact that people are upset that I'm leaving makes me know it is special," said Christoff, who grew up in Spring Hill and now lives in Hudson. "I'm going to miss all of it."
But truth be told, after a dozen years at the same school, he was ready for something new.
"For me, it was the time ... to take on a new challenge," he said. "I am super excited to be somebody that starts traditions from the beginning."
He's already started polling next year's students, who will come from Giella and Shady Hills elementary schools and River Ridge and Hudson middle schools, for their preference of a mascot. Their choices are Raiders, Cowboys and Falcons.
Getting student, parent and community buy-in and input from the outset will be key in the way Christoff gets things done.
"I want them to know that we're going to do this together," he said. "I'm not the type of person who will sit down and write every core value and the mission by myself. I want them to be part of what the school is going to be."
Christoff also aims to base his decisions on research, finding out where students need help the most and then seeking the best ways to help them. He encourages his staff to experiment and seek any realistic avenue to help students succeed. That means empowering them to ask questions, offer answers and do their jobs in the most effective way.
"Whatever is best for kids is what we ought to be doing," he said. "It just makes good sense. We should always be evolving."
Rob Aguis, who was an assistant principal at Seven Springs when Christoff first started there, called Christoff "one of those bright spots right from the start." He lauded his former teacher as a strong administrator on the rise.
"He takes the extra time to analyze things and thinks things through all of the time," said Aguis, now the director of Pasco's career education programs. "He's very smart and a very calculated person, in the sense that he thinks about what he is going to do before he does it."
Christoff didn't always plan to be an educator. While attending Valencia Community College in Orlando, he considered a career in journalism. Along the way, though, he determined that newspaper work wasn't for him, and he thought back to the many positive influences he encountered while attending West Hernando Junior High.
He decided to become a teacher so he could offer similar experiences to kids in that same place, while they're still forming who they are and who they want to be.
"It's where you can still have an impact that is meaningful," he said of middle school.
Christoff wears a whistle on his lanyard, a remnant from his days as a basketball coach, to help encourage kids to move along in the hallway. He works out in the school weight room three times a week before teachers arrive. He recently downloaded the latest Radiohead release, In Rainbows, onto his iPod. And he likes to read historical fiction.
He married his high school sweetheart, Christine, who's now a math teacher at River Ridge High. They have two children, Christopher and Camryn. Together they play tennis and go to Disney World when not busy with the rest of daily life and work.
That already includes hiring staff for Crews Lake Middle. Though still officially at Seven Springs through mid March, Christoff is conducting interviews regularly in his office with job candidates, among other duties for the new school.
"First and foremost, they have to love kids," he said of the people he hopes to hire. "I have a lot of questions that really get to the heart of it. We teach all kids."
That's why his current staff doesn't want to let him go. It's also why they figure his new school will appreciate Christoff as much as they do.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
More about Chris Christoff
- He was Pasco County's 2007 principal of the year and a finalist for county administrator of the year.
- Seven Springs Middle has earned an A from the state every year under his leadership.
- Seven Springs Middle was the only Pasco middle school where more than half of the eighth-graders attained grade level or better on the science FCAT exam in 2007.