RIVER CLUB — Even after completing his final performance review with Manatee County Director of Elementary Schools Joe Stokes, Randy Mungillo still can’t pinpoint why he will not be returning as Braden River Elementary’s principal next year.
“I don’t have a good answer,” Mungillo said. “Yeah, I was shocked. The only thing I can relate this to is that it’s like a car accident. The whole world just slowed down, and I couldn’t understand what was happening.”
The decision, made by Superintendent Tim McGonegal, was announced at the Manatee County School Board’s meeting May 10. At that time, McGonegal cited “performance-related issues” but provided no specifics and still remains reticent regarding Mungillo’s removal.
“The reason for Mr. Mungillo’s non-renewal as a principal is for performance-related issues,” he told The East County Observer last week. “I don’t want to air an administrator’s personnel evaluation in public.”
Stokes echoed McGonegal’s remarks.
“Sometimes, (in cases of removing an administrator) there’s an incident that’s flagrant and becomes public,” he said. “With performance-related issues, we’re not looking at an incident or misconduct. There’s certainly nothing like that with Randy.”
Mungillo will be reassigned to another post — possibly teaching physical education at Lee Middle School.
Stokes said the Braden River position is currently open to other Manatee principals seeking a lateral move. If no principals apply for the position, the district will then post it on its job board. The district hopes to name a replacement by June 10.
Mungillo assumed Braden River’s post in 2005 after serving as assistant principal at Rowlett Elementary since 2000.
Throughout his administrative career, Mungillo has received high praise from his superiors. In June 2005, Rowlett Principal Brian Flynn wrote: “Randy does an excellent job in all aspects of his responsibilities. He will make a fine principal when given the opportunity.”
In his first performance review as Braden River’s principal, Mungillo also earned praise from Tim Kolbe, former director of elementary education.
“Randy is performing his duties as a new principal very well,” Kolbe wrote in his November 2005 assessment. “He inherited a high-profile school, and his hard work and sincerity are paying dividends.”
In subsequent years, Kolbe advised Mungillo to work primarily in two areas: relationship with parents and with the staff.
2009-10 SCHOOL YEAR
Entering this school year, Mungillo knew it would be the most difficult in his career.
On the consensus of parents and staff, Mungillo began a massive $8.3 million makeover project that includes renovations to every building in the school. Instead of utilizing portables to house classes displaced by construction, the school community opted to use that money to purchase technology upgrades in every classroom and build an addition to the cafetorium. That meant some classes were forced to share rooms.
“It’s been crazy,” said longtime Braden River teacher Rob Gorley. “But Randy has worked hard to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
In addition to running a school in a construction zone, because of school population numbers, Braden River lost its assistant principal position this year.
“Pat (Fenton) did so much,” Mungillo said. “(When she left) it almost felt like ... I got my right arm cut off.”
Mungillo learned he would not retain his position at Braden River April 22 — the same day Stokes completed his assessment. Stokes cited two areas in which Mungillo needed improvement: accountability and community stakeholder partnerships. Stokes wrote that Mungillo had not demonstrated an effective level of performance regarding his work with the school community. Furthermore, he wrote: “Effective level of performance not demonstrated: instructional leadership as a priority not evident.”
Those assessments — particularly regarding Mungillo’s instructional leadership — stand in contrast with Braden River’s educational track record.
In all five of Mungillo’s years at Braden River, the school has earned an “A” FCAT score. This year, it was one of only four in the district to earn Adequate Yearly Progress, a designation achieved when a school demonstrates a minimum level of improvement determined by the state. In addition, Braden River’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program was the only public school in Manatee to earn a perfect score from the Department of Education .
Gorley said he has been pleased with Mungillo.
“From my perspective, he’s been really good at his job,” he said. “He’s very good with the kids here.”
Nancy Novak, whose three children all have attended Braden River, agreed.
“He did a good job,” she said. “He should be applauded rather than condemned. He’s being crucified.”
In addition to maintaining Braden River’s long history of academic excellence, Mungillo implemented several new community outreach programs such as the popular Muffins with Moms and Donuts for Dads.
Although both McGonegal and Stokes declined to comment further regarding Mungillo’s removal, district records indicate his rapport with parents may have been a point of concern.
In his March 2009 evaluation of Mungillo, Kolbe wrote: “Randy is in a school community that sets high levels of expectations on its school principal. He works hard at meeting the demands that are placed on him, but there is a continuing perception that raises concerns with regards to his ability to maintain a professional demeanor in both his verbal interactions and physical presence.”
Gorley said parental pressure at Braden River makes the principal post a difficult one.
“It’s a very tough place to be in charge,” he said. “We have a lot of parents with influence in the community, and some aren’t used to not getting their own way. I think a few vocal people precipitated this action.”
Mungillo said he is confident that although every decision wasn’t always popular, he made them with the best intention.
“One thing that never wavered was that every decision I made was based on what was best for the kids,” he said. “My son goes here. My whole goal was to create the kind of school I wanted him to be in.”
Gorley said Mungillo accomplished that goal.
“My kids go here,” he said. “I have no qualms about having them here.
“The hardest part is having to explain it to the kids,” Gorley said. “My own kids are asking, ‘Why?’ And they’re not happy about it. They don’t understand.”
Contact Michael Eng at firstname.lastname@example.org.