LAKEWOOD RANCH — A fourth East County school will have a new leader next fall.
Mike Wilder, principal at Lakewood Ranch High, has accepted another position within Manatee County Public Schools.
His last day at Lakewood is June 25.
Wilder has been Lakewood’s principal since 2002, when he took over for founding principal Roy Larson. Beginning July 1, he will serve as the district’s coordinator of school leadership development, taking the post vacated by Dr. Lyn Boyer.
“I first heard from other people that I was retiring about two years ago,” Wilder said, laughing. “But really, I’ve been thinking about the direction I needed to go on a personal level for a while now.
“Change is always good,” he said. “There’s always a lot of anxiety surrounding change. But I’ve been here for seven years now, and I think it’s time for a change. I still have a lot of energy and a lot of love for Lakewood, and I really want the school to do well. But I think it’s time for a change.”
In his new role, Wilder will assist principals and other leaders in all grade levels.
“Lyn Boyer was the person I called in those first few years when I needed support after I became principal,” Wilder said. “She really was my mentor, and I valued that relationship. I thought it would be cool to be able to work with new principals that way and form those kinds of relationships.”
Of all of his memories at Lakewood Ranch, perhaps none is as sweet as one of his first. Wilder’s first year as principal was also the year the Mustang baseball team made its historic state championship run.
“My wife and I were at one of the games,” Wilder said. “It was the fifth inning, and one of our kids was up to bat and fouled the ball off. It was coming right for us, and it was going to hit my wife.
“Instinctively, I stuck my hand out and caught it barehanded,” he said. “It brought the house down, and all I was trying to do was protect my wife.”
Perhaps that’s the best way to describe Wilder’s role at Lakewood: the great protector. During his tenure, Lakewood both has enjoyed tremendous success as well as endured unimaginable grief. Bad decisions by both teachers and students brought national attention to the school on several occasions. But through it all, Wilder stood firm as Lakewood’s leader.
“All of these experiences I’ve had here — they’ve all been a blessing to me,” he said. “I don’t think of them as bad or good. They’ve all guided me in my life.
“There have been so many things that have brought tears to my eyes,” Wilder said. “I definitely will miss the kids, the faculty and staff and the parents — everything that made this a great community. We really do have a remarkable community here in Lakewood Ranch.”
Although he won’t be occupying office space on campus next year, Wilder’s influence won’t be far from Lakewood. In his new role, Wilder will be a key adviser for his replacement and will help that person transition into the school’s next principal.
The district posted the position June 11. The posting expires on June 24, at which time an interview committee comprising one district official, one Lakewood faculty member, one parent and one community member will meet the eight to 10 candidates and whittle them down to three.
The Lakewood community will be able to meet the three finalists at a forum. Superintendent Tim McGonegal also will interview the three finalists. From those interviews, along with feedback from the community forum, he will make his recommendation to the Manatee County School Board. The board is scheduled to name Wilder’s replacement at its Aug. 22 meeting, Wilder said.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.