Alachua school board approves 10 principal appointments

Board Member Tina Certain speaks from the dais at Tuesday's meeting.
Board Member Tina Certain said she is concerned that high-needs schools also see a high turnover in administration.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) unanimously approved 12 administrative appointments Tuesday night, including 10 new principal appointments. 

The administrative appointments, all effective July 1, are as follows: 

  • Heather Harbour, the current principal at Myra A. Terwilliger Elementary School, will move to become principal at High Springs Community School. 
  • Vicki McAlhany, current principal of Newberry Elementary School, will move to become principal at Terwilliger. 
  • Emery Bishop, currently assistant principal at High Springs Community School, will take McAlhany’s place as principal of Newberry Elementary School. 
  • Jim Kuhn, who has been turnaround principal for Idylwild Elementary School for the last three years and helped to pull it out of turnaround status, will become turnaround principal for the district. 
  • Casey Karas, currently Oak View Middle School’s assistant principal of curriculum, will take Kuhn’s place as principal of Idyllwild. 
  • Christiana Robbins, current principal of W.A. Metcalfe Elementary School, will become principal at Lawton Chiles Elementary School. 
  • Cory Tomlinson, the current principal at Chiles, will take Robbins’ place as Metcalfe’s principal. 
  • Kelly Armstrong, current principal at Oak View Middle School, will move to become principal of Santa Fe High School. 
  • Jared Taber, current principal at Fort Clarke Middle School, will take Armstrong’s place as principal at Oak View Middle School. 
  • Melissa Pratto, currently assistant principal of curriculum at Buchholz High School, will take Taber’s place as Fort Clarke’s principal. 

One attendee described the changes as a game of “musical principals,” a concern several citizen attendees and at least one board member expressed. One citizen said that a dozen principal reassignments is not an indication of stability for students. 

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A few public commenters called in to the meeting to express their regrets at losing the principals at their schools, and several said that the switches in administration are too frequent. 

Khanya Bennett, database clerk at Terwilliger Elementary, called in to say that in nine years at the school she has seen five principals and seven assistant principals—likely to be eight soon. The rising 5th-graders will see their third principal and likely third new assistant principal this fall. 

“Thirteen admin changes in nine years,” Bennett said. “I hope that number makes somebody cringe. It’s not fair for the kids to constantly have these changes. They need consistency.” 

Board Member Tina Certain said she shared Bennett’s concern, not just for Terwilliger but also for other high-needs schools. She said consistent leadership is what sets high-performing schools apart from the low-performing schools. 

“I’m happy for all of the administrators,” Certain said at the meeting. “Don’t take my comments to be that I don’t want anybody to move. The issue that I have is that our schools that have lots of students with high needs… they have such a churn in leadership.” 

Last year, the board approved 11 appointments, only six of which were principals, none of whom were replaced or moved this year. 

Other administrative appointments approved at the meeting include the following: 

  • David Shelnutt, current executive director of human resources for the district, will serve as director of evaluation, accountability and data analysis 
  • Manda Bessner, the current director of evaluation, accountability and data analysis, will move to become executive director of secondary curriculum. 

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Disappointed with the District

Some of these moves are not going to go over well with parents and teachers. We know who the good principals are and who aren’t. Yet the district picks and chooses their friends instead of those with proven track records.


Wonder how much staff time that consumed?

Bill Whitten

When you have vacancies & want to promote from within, you naturally will be doing some reassignment. That’s not “churn”. However, lateral moves and indirect promotions without a clear reason are primary churn indicators. There are 2-3 here. 1) Chiles-Metcalfe swap. 2) Ft Clarke to Oak View with AP promo (just promote the AP directly to Oak View) 3) Newberry/Terwilleger/High Springs with AP promo (just promote the AP directly at HS). While continuity of leadership isn’t always the overriding concern, it’s usually right at the top. When it’s not, usually someone isn’t getting the job done or is a bad fit for the position. That, in turn, calls into question the competence of those making the position assignments.


How does this shuffle improve education?