By Suzanne Schmidt
Many of the students and staff at Sunlake High School agree they want to see Gary Walthall stay on as principal of their school.
Matt Penn, a media specialist at the school, said he hopes to see Walthall stay as principal.
“I think he is doing a great job providing stability and continuity between administrations,” Walthall said. “I think a large percentage of the school feels the same way. I like his enthusiasm. I think the kids have a certain amount of respect for him too because he is a triathlete.”
Lauren Pantoja, literacy coach, said she is rooting for Walthall as well.
“We are all hoping he will be principal,” Pantoja said. “I like that he is very visible. We were having a debate in the media center recently and when I looked up he was there.”
Marilyn Parker, media tech assistant, said she loves the work Walthall does.
“He is a very recognizable figure in the school and the kids know him and respect him,” Parker said.
When Angie Stone left to become principal of Fivay High School in March, it left a position to be filled. Three candidates have applied for the job in addition to Walthal including Rich Batchelor, assistant principal at Land O’ Lakes High School, JoAnne Glenn, assistant principal of Pasco’s e-School, and Shawn Hohenthaner, assistant principal at Ridgewood High School.
The position will be filled in June.
“The way it was explained to me, is that in June there will be a lot of people retiring,” Walthall said. “With all the administration changes happening, they want to keep their options open until summer. What I am hoping is they will realize I am the best fit for this job.”
Even though Walthall has only been the interim principal since March 1, he has already made changes to impact the student drop off points.
“We added an additional student drop off point,” Walthall said. “It can be very frustrating for folks when the traffic situation doesn’t allow for ease of drop off. The new drop off point has dramatically reduced traffic congestion.”
A new way of doing things is helping to reduce the numbers of student tardies.
“We implemented a new tardy system,” Walthall said. “It used to be that the tardies were handled by the teachers. Now we have the doors locked when the bell rings and students have to report to the tardy table before they can get in the class. We also make sure to enforce the consequences of the tardies consistently.”
There is already a school advisory council, but Walthall decided to start a principal student advisory council to keep in contact with the students. Walthall meets with three students from each grade once a month.
“It gives me a chance to talk to them about the issues they are concerned about,” Walthall said. “I can find out from them what needs to be changed and they can take the information from me that the students need to work on.”
Walthall said he is setting up programs with the idea that he will be principal next semester. With that in mind, he has started working on a program to help incoming freshmen adjust to life at high school.
“I have a skeleton structure of a freshman support team,” Walthall said. “I am very concerned about all of the students, but it is especially hard when you are an incoming freshman. I want to make sure to address the academic needs and social needs of the students as soon as possible.”
Walthall is also implementing other plans for the future with adding two new advanced placement courses- AP European history and AP art history.
“It will depend on if we get enough kids signed up,” Walthall said. “It is our ultimate goal to prepare these kids to be global citizens. We are now all connected and we want to make sure our kids are prepared for that.”
Many times Walthall said schools focus on the students doing very well or not so well, but the kids in between are forgotten about. As a result, he said he is trying to make sure every kid gets the level of instruction they need.
“All kids don’t get it at the same time or to the same degree,” Walthall said. “Sometimes you need to modify instruction.”
A tool his teachers use is the Pasco Student Testing Assessment Reports or STAR, a system that is constantly updating with students academic scores.
“In the years before, it was archaic with teachers having to pour over reports but now everything is available at the click of a button,” Walthall said.
Walthall is the type of principal who is always out talking to students and teachers. “I like to make connections with the staff and the kids,” Walthall said. “I like to develop a rapport with the kids not only as a principal but as a person too.”
In his personal life, Walthall is very committed to staying fit. He competes in triathlons, marathons and he works out. He will be participating in the Miles for Moffitt 5k run in May. He is also going to be participating in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon and the New York City marathon.
“We are calling it the first annual run with the principal to run down cancer,” Walthall said. “I am excited because kids are coming up to me telling me they want to run with me. I like the event because all of the money raised will go to Moffitt Cancer Center.”
Walthall also participated in the Iron Man competition at Panama City Beach last November where he completed 140.6 miles.
Before becoming a teacher, Walthall was in the military for 22 years. He was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force while he was getting his teaching degree.
“I flew all over the country evaluating and assessing maintenance organizations which lead to my interest in educating people,” Walthall said.
Walthall was a teacher at River Ridge High School before moving up to administration. He helped to open three high schools including Mitchell, Wesley Chapel and finally Sunlake as assistant principal.
For information, visit slhs.pasco.k12.fl.us.
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