OKEECHOBEE — Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy has named the four new principals who have been hired by the school system in an unprecedented shake up of the local school system this week.
Joseph Stanley takes over at Central Elementary, Jody Hays at Yearling Middle School, Tuuli Robinson at North Elementary, and Dr. Thelma Jackson at Seminole Elementary School.
They replace four veteran administrators. Matthew Koff left the district for Marion County Schools. Pat McCoy was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services in May. Andy Brewer and Vanessa McAllister become classroom teachers.
“I want to get the right people in the right position,” Mr. Kenworthy said. “Our ultimate goal is student achievement. We must look at the talent we have and get those people in the right position so the district will do its best.”
The district hasn’t had many changes in the past few years other than retirements. The district currently has four assistant principal positions to fill as well.
Mr. Kenworthy said Okeechobee has been fortunate but he noted other districts do this all the time, “Many districts do this every year. We have had stability. Now is the time for change and we’ll do what we can to improve test scores in the county.”
Test scores will come out later this month and Seminole and Yearling will be on the edge of between a D and a C grade, according to their assessment tests revealed last month.
Mr. Kenworthy noted the school board, in their evaluation of the job he is doing, mentioned he should mobilize staff and the talent better so that it benefits the district the most.
“I’m really excited about the new principals. During the interviews I wanted the candidate who would be working for the student and who will ensure the achievement gaps are closed,” he said.
Mr. Kenworthy also wants principals with innovative ideas who will support the classroom teachers. He said he feels the four individuals chosen have a lot of talent to bring to the table.
He also admitted there wasn’t a lot of interest in the principal positions. There were a couple of out-of-county candidates, and a couple from out of state. Mr. Kenworthy said it is difficult to hire out-of-state candidates because often times they are unfamiliar with the Florida standards, the state assessments, and the state accountability system.
“We stayed as much as we could within the state and I think we have a good crop of principals,” he added.
Mr. Kenworthy said there are 12 applicants for the four vacant assistant principal positions. They will all go through a targeted selection process and then interviews with the principal.
Mr. Kenworthy was also quick to commend the job done by the four departing principals. He said the principals at Central and Yearling worked very hard and have given many years of good service to the district.
“I have the utmost respect for those individuals and I’m very pleased that they will stay with us. Any principal would be lucky to have them as classroom teachers,” he said.
Mr. Brewer will teach English at the Freshman Campus and Ms. McAllister will teach English at Okeechobee High School.
“The principal position is very difficult. You have to juggle a lot of balls. We do everything we can to improve student achievement,” he added.
Mr. Kenworthy said while some parents might be concerned about the large turnover in administration this year, he said many should be excited about the changes that are coming.
“We are about improvement and we are here for the kids. We will do everything in our power for students to make learning gains and gain proficiency,” he noted.
Principals will also be told to get in the classrooms more, ensure adequate instruction from each teacher, know what is going on, interacting with kids, and inspiring their entire staff.
“Every kid in this town has the ability to learn. We have a high poverty rate that brings barriers, but we must overlook them. We must care enough about these students so they can learn to read. After that their lives will change dramatically,” he added.
Dr. Jackson comes from the Glades County School system where she was director of Federal Programs. She also had been an assistant principal for the Palm Beach County School System and a school system in Georgia. She is considered an expert in curriculum and instruction.
Ms. Hays had worked as assistant principal at Osceola Middle School. She also had worked as Staff Development Director for St. Lucie County Schools.
Ms. Robinson was the assistant principal at North for the past two years. For two years she was the district Coordinator of Instructional Technology. Mr. Stanley was district he district coordinator of accountability and assessment.
Mr. Kenworthy said he is really looking forward to working with his new administrative staff.
“I think it is a step forward with a lot of new people in new positions. I look forward to the new ideas they bring to the table. I want them to think out of the box and shore up some of our systems,” he added.
He said the eight new administrators should be trained well, bring a lot of potential and should make Okeechobee schools a better district.
In other moves, Vicki Goggans was named assistant principal at Okeechobee High School. The district also needs a Coordinator of Accountability and Assessment to replace Mr. Stanley. The assistant principal positions are open at Yearling Middle, Central Elementary, Osceola Middle and North Elementary.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News