LMS teacher tapped for AES By Mike Wright Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 8:29 pm (Updated: March 8, 8:54 pm)

Zak Leonard is an enthusiastic supporter of the Academy of Environmental Science.

And the academy board of directors is enthusiastic about him, too.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday to offer Leonard, a Lecanto Middle School teacher, the job as the school’s new administrator.

Leonard, a former Inverness Middle School dean of students who now coaches 300 Lecanto Middle students who struggle academically, wowed board members who were openly reluctant to name a new administrator so quickly.

Academy teachers who were part of a committee that interviewed six finalists for the position said Leonard is a perfect fit at the district-sponsored charter school.

“His enthusiasm and ideas will be good for this school,” science teacher Ward Cooper said.

English teacher Cynthia McKenna agreed.

“He’s done his homework,” she said. “He knows this academy inside and out.”

Leonard has a bachelor of arts degree in church leadership from Southeastern University and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of South Florida.

Last year, Leonard was one of 4,800 educators worldwide selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator, awarded to teachers who use innovative technology ideas to improve student success.

He told academy board members that his supervisory style is to give teachers what they need to succeed and encourage students as best he can.

“I’m not coming here to be a superstar,” he said.

The academy administrator also is lead teacher.

Leonard said he could use his familiarity with middle school principals and teachers to recruit students, which may become more vital if the district follows through on plans to reduce the time students may spend at the academy.

Leonard said the school needs to assure students of their future track at the academy. Of speaking to one freshman girl, Leonard said: “She shared she’s not sure what this is going to look like moving forward.”

Leonard spoke openly about one blemish on his record. In 2014, he said, he was disciplined after making an off-handed, but inappropriate remark, to an Inverness Middle School colleague. The incident, he said, likely removed his chances from moving up from dean to assistant principal, and he learned much from it.

“When you’re broken is the time when you start to rebuild,” he said. “I was definitely broken at that point.”

Marine Science Station Director Earnie Olsen, who would be Leonard’s supervisor and who has filled in as temporary academy director since Balfour’s removal, said he envisions a strong working collaboration with Leonard.

“I don’t feel like I’ll have to be putting out fires all the time,” he said. “He loves working with students. He loves sharing with teachers.”

Along with his regular teaching salary, the academy board will pay Leonard a $13,500 annual stipend as administrator/lead teacher if he accepts the job.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

* The Academy of Environmental Sciences board of directors will meet at 11 a.m. Monday with attorney Karen Gaffney to discuss the school district’s proposed plan that would significantly curtail enrollment at the academy. The school board and academy board have a special joint workshop at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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