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Maximo Elementary principal sued by employee fired after reporting abuse

in Local Courts by
Lakisha Falana

A principal assigned to improve one of Pinellas County’s infamous “failure factories” is being sued by a co-worker who reported a student assault, and was fired for her trouble.

Lakisha Falana, 42, is principal of Maximo Elementary School, which she took over after the school received three consecutive “F” grades. Falana was previously principal at Tarpon Springs Elementary before she took over the Maximo job in 2014.

Emily Marie Vaultonburg, a 35-year-old St. Petersburg resident, served as a behavior specialist for Maximo Elementary at the time of the incident. According to a 2009 Tampa Bay Times article, Vaultonburg was a teacher at Woodlawn Elementary until 2008.

In 2015, Falana – along with principals of five other schools identified by the Tampa Bay Times as ‘failure factories” – met with several local African-American leaders.

As part of the effort to improve the struggling Maximo Elementary, Falana partnered with the CEO of architectural firm Harvard Jolly in 2016 as part of the Pinellas County School District’s Executive PASS program, which pairs business leaders with school principals to help improve school and student performance.

By August 2016, Falana’s efforts led to Maximo improving by at least two grade letters.

Despite Falana’s impressive record, Vaultonburg says she was at Maximo Elementary September 27, 2016, when she “heard an adult physically assaulting a student with a belt in the school bathroom.” The adult was the boy’s uncle.

Vaultonburg told Falana she believed alleged assault should be reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families. Falana allegedly disagreed, accusing Vaultonburg of being “too emotional.”

Nevertheless, Vaultonburg reported the incident; and was fired later the same day.

On Jan. 5, Vaultonburg filed suit in Pinellas County’s Sixth Judicial Circuit Court against Falana — and, by default, the Pinellas County School Board — for illegal retaliation.

Vaultonburg says she also told assistant principal Tekoa Moses about the bathroom beating.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a spokesperson for the school district explains Vaultonburg’s dismissal was not related to the reported child abuse. In an email, Lisa Wolf said the termination was for “performance issues that occurred prior to the date of her dismissal.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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