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    Supporters question principal's ouster

    An area superintendent says problems surfaced this year with the Seminole High leader, but she declines to specify what happened.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Questions continue to swirl around the school district's recommendation to remove Seminole High School principal Richard Duncan.

    Teachers and parents aren't sure why Duncan would be removed from the school and replaced by East Lake High School principal Richard Misenti. They wonder whether the change is punitive.

    Area superintendent Cathy Athanson said Thursday that problems with Duncan, who had received marks for being a "highly effective" leader in May 1999, surfaced this year.

    "I think that there were some issues this year that problem-solving and decisionmaking skills were not used as well as they could have been," she said.

    But she declined to be more specific.

    Duncan said he was surprised to learn in the St. Petersburg Times earlier this week that he is to be demoted.

    Athanson said that's understandable. She never used the word in her discussions with Duncan. Instead, she talked to him about a "voluntary downgrade."

    Duncan, she said, accepted a pay cut to head Robinson Alternative School this fall, which has fewer students than Seminole's 2,100. She said she did not know how much Duncan's salary had been cut.

    On Thursday, Athanson did lay to rest concerns that Duncan was transferred because the school's baseball team -- ranked No. 1 in the nation -- was forced to forfeit 10 games this season because one of its players was ruled ineligible for play.

    "He had no control over that at all," she said.

    Teachers learned officially about Duncan's impending departure at a hastily called faculty meeting on April 4. Athanson told more than 100 staff members that Duncan would not be around next year. The news stunned some. Others laughed nervously. Still others began peppering Athanson with questions.

    "It blindsided the faculty," said Carol Parzik, an English and journalism teacher at the school for 20 years. "We did not have a clue, and we had absolutely no input whatsoever in any discussion regarding the change of the principal."

    Athanson told the instructors that she and Duncan had made a "mutual" decision.

    Parzik said she respected Duncan because he respected his teachers. He was instrumental, she said, in helping her get computers for her journalism students. He went out of his way to help her shore up the program in the nine years he has been principal.

    Parents, too, were taken aback.

    "My experience with him and whenever I have had questions, he has been helpful," Cindy Tollon, president of the PTA. "It's just a shock."

    Tollon has had one child graduate from Seminole, and another attends school there now. Duncan has made time for her when she has called or dropped by his office with questions.

    "Academic-wise, I just can't say enough about the school," she said.

    Sharman Aldrich, membership chairman for the school's PTA, described Duncan as easygoing and open. Duncan had attended all the monthly Parent Teacher Association board meetings. She saw him at swim meets and track meets and is still trying to figure out what happened.

    In fact, in support of Duncan's tenure, some parents will attend next week's School Board meeting, at which members will decide whether to accept Superintendent Howard Hinesly's recommendation that Duncan be transferred.

    "I have never ever heard a negative thing about him," Aldrich said. "I think everybody that read (the Times story) just was shocked."

    Recent coverage

    Seminole principal faces demotion (April 11, 2001)

    Warhawks to forfeit 10 games (March 15, 2001)

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