MANATEE COUNTY — At every turn in his career, Joshua Bennett was ready and willing for new challenges.
After five years as a special educator at three different Manatee elementary schools, Bennett was promoted to assistant principal at Kinnan Elementary in 2005 and later to assistant principal at Bayshore Elementary in 2008.
And this week, he is again ready as he steps into the top post at Bashaw Elementary School. With the appointment, Bennett, 33, becomes the youngest principal in the East County and the second youngest in the district. He is taking over for the retiring Dr. Ron Hirst, who with 30 years in education and 14 years in Manatee, is one of the district’s most experienced leaders.
Although the role itself is new for Bennett, the school is not. After spending his first year in Manatee at Oneco, he served as a teacher at Bashaw from 2000-2004.
“I’m familiar with the grounds, the school and a lot of the teachers,” he said. “It’s all very much the same. It’s a lot like coming back home.”
As an assistant principal, Bennett said he relied on his teaching experience.
“It gives you credibility,” he said of the experience. “Of course you miss being able to build those relationships with the kids (in a classroom). But now, you can do it with 600-700 kids — the whole school population.”
Bennett said his first priority as Bashaw’s leader will be to solidify relationships with the school’s staff and parents. As one of the East County’s oldest elementaries (Bashaw is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year), the school is steeped in tradition. Its Jump for Fun and Art and Music Festival events give Bashaw its character, and Bennett said it’s important to keep those traditions alive.
“When these kids leave, they won’t remember what textbook they had,” he said. “But they will remember Jump for Fun. They will remember the Art and Music Festival.”
Last year, Bashaw’s grade on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test dropped to a C. Bennett said despite the ongoing debate on whether the FCAT is a valid evaluation for schools, he will work to improve Bashaw’s performance this year.
“Testing and accountability is a good thing in many ways,” he said. “The question is, ‘Is it the right measuring stick?’ But that’s nothing I can control. These are the boundaries, and we’re going to do the best we can with what we’re given.”
Bennett’s wife, Larissa, is a guidance counselor at Blackburn Elementary. The couple has an 18-month-old son, Langdon. They live in Ellenton.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
Health concerns force Hirst's retirement
For the second — and final — time, health concerns have altered Dr. Ron Hirst’s career in Manatee County Public Schools.
Hirst, who took over as Bashaw’s principal in 2009, leaves the school this week on the recommendation of his doctor.
“It’s a bump in the road, and this is necessary,” Hirst said. “That’s the bottom line. I would like to stay here. But it’s just not going to work out health-wise. I don’t want to end up where I was five years ago.”
Hirst, whose résumé includes more than 30 years of experience and 14 with Manatee, shows strong ties to the East County. As principal, Hirst opened both Haile and Nolan middle schools. He was serving at Nolan when he suffered a heart attack in 2005.
Hirst endured open-heart bypass surgery, and during recover, took a less-stressful job as a grand resource specialist for Manatee County Public Schools. With his cardiologist’s blessing, Hirst returned to the school level last year after Minnie King retired from Bashaw.
“It’s been a wonderful experience being here, and I learned a lot,” he said. “I’ll miss the people — the parents, the staff and especially the kids.”
However, although he’s leaving the Manatee district, Hirst will continue in education. He’ll work as an associate professor for Argosy University — a position that will allow him some flexibility and — again — less stress.
“I’ll be able to go out and have lunch,” he said, laughing. “Now, I eat lunch on the run, and it might last until 2:30 p.m.”
Hirst also will be able to spend more time with his family, which includes two sons and four grandchildren.
“Any time with the little guys is a good time,” Hirst said.