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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Leader hits ground running
The Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition's new director brings high energy and family values.
By Lisa Buie, Times Staff Writer
Published February 25, 2008
Jim Farrelly, new executive director of the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition, visits with students, from left, Katya Geddes, Jacob White and Meagan Broussean at Little Village Preschool in Spring Hill this month. Farrelly has been on the job since January.
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
SPRING HILL - Jim Farrelly is an experienced marathon runner.
Good thing. He has a long road to negotiate if he expects to remake the agency that oversees early-childhood programs in Pasco and Hernando counties. Even he recognizes it.
"It's not going to be an outstanding year," he said. "But we're certainly on the road back."
In the end, however, Farrelly not only expects to revive the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition, but he plans to make it thrive.
"I've got my eye on being No. 1 in the state of Florida," said Farrelly, whose most recent job was heading a nonprofit agency that provides guardians to incapacitated adults in New Jersey. "Give me time."
Those who work closely with Farrelly already are heaping on the praise.
"I never thought such a breath of fresh air could come out of New Jersey," joked Lisa Hammond, chairwoman of the volunteer board that oversees the coalition.
In January, Farrelly took over as executive of the coalition. The nonprofit agency oversees day care centers that serve low-income children and those who participate in the voluntary pre-kindergarten program open to everyone.
He faced a tough situation.
The two counties used to be governed by separate groups. The agencies came together in 2005 after the state ordered smaller agencies to merge with other groups as a cost-cutting move.
Shortly after the merger, things started to unravel.
The two years that followed were marked by board infighting and $300,000 surpluses that were spent at the last minute. Two directors quit, including one who was forced out. The agency became alienated from Pasco's power brokers after its board cut off money for a school district program that provided meals and medical care to preschoolers of the working poor. Pasco leaders responded by refusing to provide matching money for grants. It didn't help that an Ocala firm beat out a popular Pasco nonprofit agency for a contract to cut checks to day care centers.
At one point, state officials were brought in to help smooth over differences. They described the board as "dysfunctional."
In May, things came to head when director Jo-Ann K. Fuller, the second-in-command who inherited the job when her predecessor left amid all the acrimony, resigned amid staff complaints of not being paid for overtime work and poor management practices.
A year of rebuilding and reorganization
The complaints from some Pasco board members prompted state Sen. Mike Fasano to offer legislation dissolving the merger. If that had happened, Pasco, which is large enough to operate independently, would have seen little effect. The fallout would have been much more difficult for Hernando. Too small to stand alone, it would have been forced to find other partners, which could have been difficult given the negative publicity. Fasano backed off and instead urged the coalition to hire a good director, preferably someone with no ties to either county.
After reviewing about 90 resumes, board members settled on Farrelly, a 58-year-old native New Yorker and former school superintendent.
Until he flew in for his job interview last fall, he had never "set foot in Pasco or Hernando," he proudly pointed out to board members during his first official meeting last month.
He has dubbed 2008 a year of "R and R." In Farrelly speak, that means reorganization and rebuilding.
He keeps his to-do list on a big flip chart in the corner of his office decorated with photos of him running marathons and posing with his four grown daughters.
One of his top goals is to get an external financial audit done for 2007. It will be completed by mid April, but that's only a couple of months before the end of the fiscal year.
"That's unacceptable," he said.
He also recently hired someone to oversee the $25-million contract awarded to Childhood Development Services, the firm that directly oversees the child care centers working for the coalition.
And he is working to build bridges. He recently met with Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino and Hernando superintendent Wayne Alexander.
"Things are going to get better fast," he said.
He routinely visits day care centers. He has set up an advisory board of 10 owners.
"If it weren't for these providers, the coalition wouldn't exist," he said.
Coalition staffers, whom Farrelly often refers to as "family," love him. He often uses the word "family" to describe them.
"This man is a blessing," the agency's quality manager, Noreen St. Jean, said after Farrelly attended his first board meeting.
All the hard work has left Farrelly little time to train for marathons, although he still runs most days at 5 a.m.
"I've retired from marathons," he said. "I'm only going to do half-marathons from now on."
For information about the Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition's programs, visit www.phelc.org or call (727) 233-8291 or toll-free at 1-866-979-9444.
Just call him Jim
NAME: James Farrelly. He prefers Jim.
AGE: "A vibrant 58," he says.
TITLE: Executive director, Pasco Hernando Early Learning Coalition.
BACKGROUND: Born in the Bronx, grew up a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. Went from high school straight to the Army in the Vietnam era. Served in Germany. Went to college on the G.I. Bill.
EDUCATION: Undergraduate degree in secondary education/history, Manhattan College, New York City, 1974. Master's degree in special education, the College of New Rochelle, 1976. Completed course requirements for doctorate in educational psychology from Rutgers University in 1986. He was awarded the diplomate in educational administration in 1994.
EXPERIENCE: Teacher, New York City public schools, 1974-76; special education teacher, Spotswood Public High School, N.J., 1976-80; served in school administration, 1981-2001. Also, worked as an educational consultant, 1995-2003; executive director, Volunteer Guardianship One-on-One, 2003-07.
FAMILY: Wife, Elizabeth, a physician specializing in internal medicine, and four daughters ages 19, 21, 24 and 25.
HOBBIES: Runs six mornings a week, enjoys Major League Baseball and landscape architecture. Is a self-described CNN junkie.