Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, April 9, 2010
Six vie to lead schools

A Monroe County school employee who was demoted in the wake of the financial scandal may leave the district administration ranks to become a principal.

Michael Henriquez, whose pay was cut when he was moved from deputy superintendent to chief academic officer, is on a list of six finalists for principal positions opening this fall at Key West High School, Coral Shores High School and Horace O'Bryant Middle School.

Henriquez was criticized for not catching the alleged theft of former Adult Education Coordinator Monique Acevedo, whom he supervised.

He said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the potential job change. "At this time, I don't want to comment because we are all finalists," he said Thursday. "All of the candidates are outstanding educators. We'll see what happens."

Henriquez last month told Schools Superintendent Joe Burke he was interested in a job running one of the three schools. "Mike gave me a letter a while back about getting a principalship," Burke said. "Consequently, I want him to be considered."

The School Board has discussed changing the requirements for his job, which, along with the chief operations officer and chief financial officer, makes up the top executive team. Because the other two have doctorates, board member Steve Pribramsky has argued that the chief academic officer (CAO) should have one, too.

"The discussion was to have a doctorate or former principal in the CAO position, or they should have experience as a principal," Burke said. "I think he's at a point where he would welcome the opportunity to be a principal and gain that credential in his resume."

Henriquez has been an assistant principal for the district. He is the son of long-serving former Superintendent A.J. "Bookie" Henriquez.

Other candidates

The short list of other finalists include three district employees and two out-of-towners.

The locals are Teresa Axford, Sugarloaf School principal; David Murphy, Coral

Shores High School assistant principal; and Denise Santiago, Horace O'Bryant Middle School assistant principal. The out-of-towners are Hammond Gracy, Samuel F. Wolfson High School principal in Duval County, and

Alberto Rodriguez, a former Amherst Public Schools superintendent who was on the job only eight months.

Rodriguez resigned on March 8 after a regional school committee criticized him about vacation and sick time, according to published reports. Also, on his first day of work, a parent suggested a property tax bill-burning outside Rodriguez's office window to protest his $158,000 salary.

Burke, who knows Rodriguez from their days as principals and regional superintendents

elsewhere in Florida, defended Rodriguez's record. Massachusetts voters replaced almost the entire board that hired Rodriguez, leaving him with new board members who were not comfortable with him,

Burke said. Appointed superintendents are subject to the praise or politics of the boards that hire them, he added.

"Alberto was a great principal in Miami," Burke said. "When he was at American High School in Hialeah, he did a great job, because I supervised him. I know the turnaround he can make at a high school. That's why I asked him to apply."

Gracy also got on the bad side of parents after dismissing a popular baseball coach for allegedly purchasing an unauthorized dietary supple-

ment for his players, according to published reports. He also has been praised for a letter he sent to parents

explaining that a loaded gun found in a student's backpack at the high school was not part of a plot to shoot students or staff. The school system had been experiencing racial tension at the time and his letter was designed to calm fears, reports say.

The local candidates apparently do not have publicly controversial records.

Though new principals are paid $71,000 a year, according to the district salary schedule, Burke said he will have to pay experienced principals or assistants more.

COO Jesus Jara said he interviewed at least 14 candidates -- some from as far away as Nebraska -- and would discuss his choices with Burke on Monday. "I interviewed them two weeks before spring break. We had an extensive interview

with a really good pool of candidates," Jara said.

The School Board will consider the job recommendations at its meeting Tuesday.

"I'd like to place all six of them if possible," Burke said. "There will be some

shuffling around, so we're going to do our best."

The jobs are coming open as longtime educators retire. Ron Martin has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal at Coral Shores since 1973, while John Welsh has served nearly as much time as a teacher and principal at Key West High School.

"I haven't really made any plans, and the future is only limited by imagination," Welsh said Thursday. "I have a vivid imagination."

As for Horace O'Bryant, the quiet-spoken and tough-to-

rattle Marian Smith is retiring after more than 30 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. She's leaving just as

the district attempts to fund a new $36 million school to replace the leaking and aging building.

"I started my career at HOB 30 years ago as a math and science teacher," Smith said Thursday. "I spent 17 years as a classroom teacher, which I really enjoyed. Many of the parents in our community are former students of mine."

Smith has adventure in mind for her future.

"I am a licensed boat captain and plan to help my husband with his business, Captain's Marine," she said. "I'll be teaching a United States Coast Guard-approved captain's course. I will truly miss the students and staff at HOB."

jguerra@keysnews.com

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