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Two new principals await final approval

MANATEE — By days end, Buffalo Creek Middle School and Palmetto High School could have new principals for the upcoming school year.

That’s because the Manatee County school board is slated to vote tonight on Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s recommendations of Willie Clark and Matt Gruhl to oversee those schools.

Clark, now principal at Sugg Middle, is proposed to lead Palmetto High. Gruhl, assistant principal at Bayshore High, has been chosen by McGonegal for Buffalo Creek Middle.

If approved by the board, they will replace existing principals Debbie Valcarcel at Palmetto and Scott Cooper at Buffalo Creek. Both were let go in April because McGonegal said they weren’t meeting expectations.

Clark, 37, and Gruhl, 34, are among a slew of school personnel appointments slated to be approved. The list includes proposed Bashaw Elementary principal Ronald Hirst, proposed McNeal Elementary Principal Norma Scott and proposed Freedom Elementary Principal James Mennes.

Mike Wilder, principal of Lakewood Ranch High School since 2002, is also slated to be approved as coordinator of school leadership development for the district. He would replace Lyn Boyer, who moved into the position several years ago after serving as principal of Manatee High School.

If hired, it wouldn’t be the first time Clark has worked at Palmetto High. From 2002 to 2004, Clark was an assistant principal there. His family is also from that area, he said.

“It was an opportunity to go back home, my family was there,” said the former NFL player. “It has a special place in my heart.”

He oversees about 750 students at Sugg. If hired at Palmetto, he’ll oversee about 1,600.

In school grades released by the state Thursday, Palmetto received a D for the fifth straight year. It scored a C in 2004.

Sugg has been an A school since 2008. He was hired there in 2007.

If hired, Clark said he plans to meet with teachers and parents to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Gruhl has been a teacher and administrator at both middle and high school levels in three counties: Manatee, St. Lucie and Pasco.

“It’s given me some great experience to prepare me for this job,” he said. “I love middle school.”

It also wouldn’t be the first time he has worked a middle school. In 2004, he was interim assistant principal at Lee Middle. He also taught seventh grade there.

“Buffalo Creek is a newer school with a great faculty,” Gruhl said Sunday.

if hired, he said he hopes to bring experience to the newer school. Bayshore has received a D grade each of the past three years.

Buffalo Creek jumped to a B this year after posting a C in 2008.

“They’ve improved in a lot of areas, including reading and science,” Gruhl said. “I feel strong about them next year.”

If hired, he said he plans to focus on math.

“It’s an area that needs looking at . . . but I have a lot of confidence.”