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School board member Sally Harris snaps a selfie with Chief of Schools, Harrison Peters and Area Superintendents.

New system of area superintendents aims to bring school decisions closer to families

August 02, 2016 - Points of Pride

Original article by Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — Sharon Morris spent 28 years at Riverview's East Bay High School, advancing from teacher to principal.

She took over Freedom High School after scandal and tragedy derailed its previous principal. She has a husband who works in secondary education. She has three grandchildren.

This year, be prepared to learn much more.

Morris, 57, is one of eight administrators whose work will shift from behind the scenes to front and center as Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins seeks to bring the business of the sprawling school system closer to families and neighborhoods.

"My hopes are that all students are provided an education that will allow them to make choices upon graduation," Morris told theTampa Bay Times.

Her territory, which she will run from an office in Plant City, is Area 6.

To fill these leadership jobs, which typically pay about $134,000 a year, Eakins conducted a national search. Some were hired from other departments. Three were already area superintendents, assigned to new territories. Two were hired from out of town.

Here's what we know about the other seven:

Area 1

Lisa Yost, 56, is the daughter of Walter Sickles, who was Hillsborough's superintendent from 1989 to 1996. She was principal of Grady and Cannella elementary schools, then was tapped in 2001 to open McKitrick in Lutz.

Yost became an area director in 2009, overseeing the Town 'N Country area. She's now moving to Area 1, which covers much of the inner city and South Tampa.

"I know the educators in Area 1 are a group of outstanding leaders that work together for the best interest of the students and community they serve," Yost said. To fulfill the district's vision of "preparing students for life," she said, "it will be important to reach the district goal of graduating at least 90 percent of our students by the year 2020."

Area 2

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Marcos Murillo, 40, moved to Tampa after college. "I had a few challenges at the beginning," he said, including polishing his English.

He taught at Stewart, Benito and Adams middle schools before moving to Turkey Creek Middle as an assistant principal. He was principal of Webb Middle and, later, area superintendent in southeastern Hillsborough. His new territory runs from Citrus Park through Town 'N Country.

"One of my goals is to gain detailed knowledge of the schools, community and all stakeholders that influence our students," he said. "Every school is different just as every student is different."

Area 3

Anna Brown, 48, has held numerous jobs for the district, including stints as the principal of Clark and Witter elementary schools. She supervised the district's teaching reform experiment, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in its final years. As Chief Information and Technology Officer, she also was responsible for equipping schools with equipment they needed to teach computer literacy.

Brown will oversee schools in northern Hillsborough and New Tampa from an office near the University of South Florida.

Area 4

Donell Underdue, Jr., 48, is leaving Chicago, where he was chief of schools for that public school system's Network 10.

Before that, a career of 23 years took him to North Carolina and Maryland. In 2011, he was named interim executive director of a school reform project in Atlanta. A year later, he began working in Chicago.

Area 4 includes Carrollwood, Sulphur Springs and East Tampa.

Area 5

Michelle Fitzgerald, 45, was hired away from Elmurst, Ill., west of Chicago, where she was an assistant superintendent. Before that, she was a teacher, assistant principal, and principal and consultant. Her hope for her new students "is that they have a love of learning," she said. "For students to be engaged in their learning, we need to make learning personal for them."

Fitzgerald has a strong affection for Florida. She's vacationed at Disney World since she was a child. Two of her own children are students at Florida colleges, one at Stetson University in Deland and the other an incoming freshman at Florida Gulf Coast University. "Everyone I have met has been welcoming and supportive," she said.

Area 5 extends from Clair Mel and Palm River through Lithia, including the FishHawk Ranch area.

Area 7

Owen Young, 45, was assistant principal at Middleton High, a school in East Tampa that had such a disappointing academic record the state considered shutting it down in 2009. As principal, Young restored order at Middleton and raised test scores. He invited local biker clubs to school fundraisers and still enjoys riding his motorcycle on the open road when he gets the chance.

Young was promoted to Area 7 director in 2014. A year later, when Eakins wanted to create a department for low-performing "priority" schools, he chose Young to run it. The title was later changed to "Elevate" schools and, after another year, Eakins decided area superintendents should take ownership of the high-needs schools.

He's placing Young once more in charge of Area 7 in western Brandon, which includes two Elevate schools: McLane, which buses hundreds of students from East Tampa; and Sligh Middle.

Area 8

Shaylia McRae, 39, is the granddaughter of Richard Pride, a onetime Blake High principal who later served as director of the Upward Bound program for minority students at the University of South Florida.

She went to work for the school district in 1999 and, at 31, became principal of Martinez Middle School.

Elia chose McRae to head up the Student Success program, which was launched in 2014 as Hillsborough came under scrutiny from the U.S. Department's Office of Civil Rights.

The job McRae leaves behind is not being filled as she moves into her new position in Area 8, the newest territory in southeast Hillsborough.

"My hope is to ensure that all schools have a welcoming and positive culture that celebrates diversity," said McRae, who loves to travel overseas when she is not at work.

"We will strive to have all students graduate from high school prepared for college or a career."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol.