Pinellas schools prepare for major leadership shift as retirements near

The Pinellas County school district is preparing for a generational change in leadership.

In the coming months, the district’s chief finance officer, academic officer, minority achievement officer and athletic director will retire, taking with them 131 years of collective experience.

Superintendent Kevin Hendrick wants a seamless transition when they leave. So he has asked for a school board vote Tuesday for a new team to guide some of the district’s most critical areas.

He’s leaning heavily on local talent: His recommendations include promoting one district administrator, two principals and an assistant principal. Only the candidate for chief finance officer comes from outside the district.

The changes would shape up like this:

• Gary Jeppesen, most recently chief operating officer and chief finance officer for MiCamp Solutions, an Arizona-based financial technology firm, would be the chief finance officer. He would replace Kevin Smith, who has been with the district since 1997.

• Donnika Jones, the district’s chief transformation officer since 2022, would become the chief academic officer. Jones has worked for the district since 2007 in several roles, including principal of Melrose Elementary. She would replace Dan Evans, who worked for the district from 1999 through 2021, then left briefly to serve as Manatee County deputy superintendent before returning to join Hendrick’s administration.

• LaKisha Lawson, principal of Fairmount Park Elementary School since 2019, would become chief transformation officer, overseeing a group of schools that get extra assistance and attention from the district. Lawson has been a Pinellas teacher and administrator since 1998.

• Kathleen Young-Parker, principal of Campbell Park Elementary School since 2017, would become minority achievement officer, focused on eliminating achievement gaps. The district’s elementary education director from 2011 to 2013, Young-Parker has held several jobs in the district beginning in 1995. She would replace Lewis Brinson, who joined Pinellas in 2016 after a 34-year career in Hillsborough County schools.

• Marc Allison, an assistant principal at Northeast High School since 2018, is the pick to become district athletic director. He would replace Al Bennett, who is retiring after 37 years with the district.

Hendrick said he had long anticipated the retirements, and had asked Brinson and Smith to remain through his move into the superintendent’s office in 2022.

At that time, Hendrick needed to fill his old position as chief academic officer, and the deputy superintendent post was coming open soon afterward. When Evans returned to Pinellas, he planned to remain only two years, Hendrick said, while Bennett’s retirement deadline through the state program was nearing.

Hendrick said he used the intervening time to be on the lookout for the next round of leaders.

He said he didn’t need to look far, as the district is filled with educators who have “done a great job in our schools. I’ve had my eye on them for several years.”

The incoming group understands the district’s goals, objectives, work ethic and core mission, Hendrick said.

“We’ll continue our positive momentum,” he said. “I also think you’ll see each leader brings their own level of success and their own style.”

Veteran school board member Carol Cook said she was pleased Hendrick had a “deep bench” to turn to as longtime administrators are retiring. For a time, she said, the district didn’t always prepare people to move into different roles.

She lamented that the district will be losing so much history with the retirements, but said those who are leaving deserve time to enjoy new things.

“I’m glad people are able to retire. But I’m going to miss them,” said Cook, who will retire from the board in November after 24 years in office.