Tiffany Ewell, the new principal at Steinbrenner High School, said she always knew she would face a learning curve when taking the leadership role at a school.
However, she said, “my learning curve might be a little steeper than I ever imagined.”
After all, in addition to assuming a new role, Ewell faces a school year filled with uncertainties because of COVID-19.
“But, we’re all in the same boat,” Ewell said. “The challenges are there for everyone. We’re going to get through this and we’ll do it together.’’
The educator, who was promoted in June from her position as assistant principal for the International Baccalaureate program at Strawberry Crest High in Dover, has spent her summer preparing for the new school year.
At a time when the incoming principal would normally be assessing her faculty lineup, meeting and greeting with parents, and getting to know the community, she’s forced to work at a social distance. She’s preparing Steinbrenner’s brick-and-mortar classrooms for the proper health precautions, while also devising strategies for eLearning students.
“Some of the best advice a first-time principal can receive is the need to be patient and flexible … and that’s certainly true right now,’’ Ewell said. “Even though we’re in a historic and stressful time, I know I’m surrounded by so much support. We all want the same thing and that’s to see our students be successful.
“Regardless of COVID-19, there are a lot of changes in the county with a new superintendent (Addison Davis). There’s a great feeling of camaraderie among all the principals. Staff and parents have been super supportive. Steinbrenner has been a great school for a long time. I’m relying on the support systems available to me and know things don’t have to be reinvented. I’m here to help and, at times, put my own direction on it. I’m very excited to be here.’’
Ewell replaces Kelly King, who was assigned to Hillsborough High after seven years as Steinbrenner’s principal.
Ironically, Ewell and King once worked side by side as social studies instructors when their teaching careers began at King High School. They went together from King to Freedom, following principal Richard Bartels, who told them both, “I’m going to make principals of you one day.’’
“Mr. Bartels was right … it actually happened,’’ King said. “Certainly, it defies the odds that two social studies teachers and next-door classroom neighbors just starting out would become principals.
“Even long ago, we talked about it all the time. We went through all the leadership development courses and programs. We had the same kind of goals. We were just two peas in a pod. I’m thrilled that Tiffany has gotten this opportunity, and I couldn’t think of a better person for the Steinbrenner position.’’
As they shifted into administration, King and Ewell worked a parallel path, sometimes applying for the same jobs, even driving together to attend back-to-back interviews.
“I can always pick up the phone and ask Kelly a question, so our friendship and her experience at Steinbrenner are a great asset,’’ said Ewell, who had worked at Strawberry Crest since the East Hillsborough County school opened in 2009.
King said the Steinbrenner community won’t notice much of a difference because “Tiffany and I are really similar in so many ways.’’
Indeed, they are close friends and confidants. They have even taken vacations together.
“Tiffany’s leadership style will be a great fit at Steinbrenner,’’ King said. “She was a very strong teacher and she has the IB experience, so she knows the importance of college readiness. I think she will continue the success of the academic and extracurricular programs.
“This is a unique time with unique challenges, but it’s still the best job in the world. As a principal, there are stressful times, but you remain focused on the big picture. You do what’s right for the students. You hear from all the people who have a stake in it, then make decisions, always keeping the students first and foremost. Through it all, you’ve got to have some fun, too. The job can wear you out, but it’s also so fun and so rewarding. Tiffany will have the perfect priorities for success,” King said.
In assuming the school’s top job, Ewell becomes just the third principal in Steinbrenner’s history, replacing King, who had replaced Brenda Grasso, the school’s first principal.
Ewell is a graduate of King High School. She originally attended the University of Florida (UF) with designs on becoming a broadcast journalist. In high school, she even conducted an interview with Fox-13 news anchor Kelly Ring, while dreaming of one day filling a similar role in her hometown.
Back then, some King teachers insisted that Ewell would ultimately migrate into education.
“I’m not going to be a teacher, I’m a journalist,’’ Ewell protested.
But, at UF, she visualized a gypsy lifestyle in broadcasting, hopping from town to town while climbing the career ladder, and that didn’t seem appealing.
She transferred to the University of South Florida, where she shifted to education.
Ewell hasn’t regretted the move.
She loves to travel. She’s a doting aunt to her nephews, Drew and Zach Ehrhard, both high-level baseball players. She’s passionate about all things Tampa Bay.
But, her biggest passion is education. And now, that passion is centered on Steinbrenner.
“Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns right now.
“But, we’re going to build relationships and make it work. Things have worked well at Steinbrenner for a long time. I’m here to lend support and keep things moving in a good direction,” Ewell said.
By Joey Johnston
Published July 29, 2020
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