MANATEE — The principals of Southeast High, Palmetto High and Buffalo Creek Middle School will not have their contracts renewed because they didn’t meet expectations, Superintendent Tim McGonegal said Monday.
“It wasn’t that they weren’t working hard, but being a principal is a tough job ... We felt that it’s time for a change at these three schools,” McGonegal said.
The principals — Mike Horne at Southeast, Debbie Valcarcel at Palmetto and Scott Cooper at Buffalo Creek — will complete the school year but won’t be returning to the same position next year, McGonegal said. They can apply for other positions in the district, however.
“Two out of the three would like to apply for other positions in the district,” McGonegal said, but he declined to elaborate.
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The district will be searching for new principals, and candidates will be vetted in a process that includes the schools’ advisory councils and staff.
“What we will do now is a nationwide search,” he said. “We’ll have our own candidates, and candidates from outside.”
Horne has been employed by the Manatee County school district for 32 years and has been Southeast High’s principal for about 10 years.
In the past few years, Horne had been struggling with a shrinking and diverse school population and a sliding Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test grade. Last year, the school’s grade dropped from a C to a D.
“He works hard for the best of the school, the students and the teachers,” said Lee Ann Hoffman, a longtime Southeast High teacher. “The problems Southeast has now are redistricting and choice. Mike has fought hard to try and deal with these issues.”
Hoffman said she is saddened and does not know why the district is letting Horne go.
“I really don’t know what they are doing,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of people upset.”
Horne declined comment.
“I have been instructed to not discuss this matter,” he told the Bradenton Herald when reached at home.
Valcarcel has been in the district 19 years and took over Palmetto High four years ago. Cooper, who has worked in the district for seven years, was appointed Buffalo Creek’s principal when the school opened three years ago. The school was graded a C last year. The Herald could not reach Valcarcel and Cooper for comment.
Like Southeast, Palmetto High has been battling low grades — the school was graded a D in the past four years — and a challenging student population.
The news about their principal came as a surprise to some parents and teachers.
Becky Dakin, whose children attend both Palmetto High and Buffalo Creek Middle, said she had heard during the last year that Valcarcel may be leaving. But she was unaware that Cooper would be let go.
There has been no improvement of Palmetto High’s school grade in the past four years and that is not acceptable, Dakin said.
“Just like in business, the buck stops at the top, and in this case it’s Debbie Valcarcel,” she said.
Dakin said the biggest problem she saw at Buffalo Creek is accessibility to the principal.
“The last time I tried to call him, I was screened out,” she said.
Harry Kinnan, a long-time school board member, said he was aware of the superintendent’s decision.
The hirings and firings of employees are under the superintendent’s purview, he said.
“I hope we don’t lose any more principals than this, that’s 33 percent of our high school principals,” he said. “I worry about the traditional high schools at this time. We can’t afford too much turnover in one year.”
Dakin echoed the sentiment.
“I am concerned more than anything,” she said. “What really matters is the teachers, and when the principal is going out, what are the teachers going to deal with?”