Hillsborough County Schools’ MaryEllen Elia honored as 2015 Superintendent of the Year

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Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has been awarded the 2015 Superintendent of the Year by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

The award was announced Wednesday morning during a joint meeting between the awarding group and the Florida School Boards Association.

Elia has been head of Hillsborough Schools since she was hired during a national search in 2005. A former social studies teacher, she moved to Tampa from New York in 1986. She now heads the nation’s eighth largest school district overseeing more than 200,000 students in more than 270 schools and learning centers. The school district is the county’s largest employer.

“I am deeply honored by this award. I know the success of our district is due to the longevity of our leaders. My predecessor, Dr. Earl Lennard, was also a double digit Superintendent for Hillsborough County and that sets us apart. It takes teamwork by our staff, students, parents, school board members, and myself, working together in a very focused way,” Elia said.

Elia has received numerous accolades for her service as superintendent including the College Board’s District of the Year Beacon Award and Data Leader of the Year in 2011. In 2010 she was presented with the Inaugural Governor’s Business Partnership Award by then Gov.-elect Rick Scott. She’s also been recognized as a woman of distinction as well as several other awards throughout her tenure as superintendent.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Elia though. One of Elia’s toughest critics, school board member April Griffin, won re-election to the board stirring controversy along the way. Elia got caught up in “signgate” after putting Griffin’s opponent’s campaign sign in her yard. Griffin has accused Elia of mismanaging staff on issues like the district’s troubled transportation system and even bullying employees into not speaking with board members.

“We didn’t vote for her,” Griffin said referring to the school board. “I was shocked [when I heard] because I’ve never seen the community so divided over the superintendent’s performance.”

Despite Griffin’s vocal contempt for Elia, the superintendent does have friends on the school board. Longtime board member Candy Olsen often defends Elia’s job performance. Even Griffin’s fellow Elia critic, Susan Valdes, had a semi-congradulatory tone after hearing about the latest award. She told the Tampa Bay Times, “It’s good that her peers recognize the things that she is trying to do and has accomplished.” Valdes added she hopes to move forward and “not continually rehash.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.