- February 27, 2019
Braden River Elementary Principal Hayley Rio once was the kind of little girl who would line up her stuffed animals to play “school,” giving them math quizzes.
It was only fitting Rio became an educator, teaching first and fourth grades for a number of years in Pinellas and Hillsboro counties before moving into administration roles and eventually becoming the principal at Braden River Elementary, where she has led the school for nine years.
Rio, an avid reader, is moving to the next chapter of her life as she will become the first principal at the new Barbara A. Harvey Elementary School in Parrish.
While Rio said she’s excited about the upcoming transition, she choked up as she talked about the experiences she has had while at Braden River Elementary.
“After nine years, they’re like my family,” she said.
When she became the principal, Rio said it was a different environment than it is today. Her biggest challenges were building trust in herself as a leader and fostering a sense of community with teachers, parents and students. Now, she said, the sense of community among those groups is one of the school’s strengths.
Brijet France, a fourth-grade teacher, said she has worked with Rio for eight years and is sad to see her go. She described Rio as an amazing leader.
“There’s so many great things about her,” France said.
Chief among them, France said, are Rio’s empathy and compassion. “She’s taught me how to be a better teacher,” France said.
Krista Francies, the assistant principal at Braden River Elementary, has worked with Rio for three years.
When asked what Rio has taught her, Francies' answered quickly.
“What haven’t I learned?”
Francies, like Rio, could not hold back her tears as she talked about the mentor and friend who would be leaving at the end of the school year.
She said Rio taught her a sense of community and culture, enthusiasm for learning, and how to have fun.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” she said of Rio’s departure.
Francies said she is confident the incoming principal, Joshua Bennett, will be just as talented. After several conversations with him, she said he brings similar ideas and attitudes to the table that will be well-suited for Braden River Elementary.
As for Rio, a Parrish resident, she’s excited to work closer to home, where she will be leading a school in the community where she shops and goes to church.
Rio said she wanted the Braden River Elementary community to know she has appreciated the opportunity to have spent nine years as part of their family and to have been given the grace to grow as a person, as an educator and as a principal.