Cara Cronk, the county’s 2018 assistant principal of the year and Indian Trails Middle School’s Teacher of the Year in 2011, was named principal of Buddy Taylor Middle School today, replacing Bobby Bossardet. Jessica DeFord, who has been the acting principal at Belle Terre Elementary, transitioning the school back to normalcy after former principal Terence Culver was pushed out in the shadow of numerous administrative irregularities, was named principal of the school today.
Neither moves on the part of Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt are a surprise, though they reinforce what the appointments do signal: that the superintendent, herself in the district less than half a year, is comfortable and trusting of an administrative staff that two previous superintendents cultivated for leadership positions. The district’s bench, in other words, is not thin.
“This is an exciting time for me professionally and personally,” DeFord said last December when she was named interim principal. “I’ve worked for the past four years to help our teachers, staff, and students excel in the classroom and prepare them for middle school and beyond.”
“Jessica has steered Belle Terre Elementary through some challenging times as Interim Principal,” Mittelstadt was quoted as saying in a release issued this afternoon. “She is ready to lead the staff and students and has a solid plan to ensure BTES maintains the high standards everyone connected with the campus demands.”
DeFord started inFlagler Schools in 2013 as a teacher and became an assistant principal st Belle Terre Elementary School in 2016. Prior to her educational career in Flagler County, She taught in Brevard and Putnam County. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Teaching from Saint Leo University in 2001. She earned a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of North Florida in 2003.
Cronk has been an assistant principal at Buddy Taylor since 2018 after a two-year stint as assistant principal at Matanzas High School. She was at Indian Trails before that. She started her career in education 25 years ago.
“Cara has a vision for Buddy Taylor Middle School,” Mittelstadt said. “She has been a vital member of Principal Bossardet’s team and I am confident she will do a great job in continuing the growth seen at Buddy Taylor.” Bossardet last month was elevated to the district office as the executive director of leadership development, a position long considered equivalent to deputy superintendent under previous executives. He replaced Earl Johnson, who was shifted to director of student and community engagement and operations. Johnson had applied to be superintendent.
“I am humbled and honored to be named the principal of Buddy Taylor Middle School,” Cronk said. “Over the past few years, we have strived to reignite the student, faculty, and community pride in Buddy Taylor Middle School. I am committed to growing the positive climate and culture that we have firmly established while ensuring our students and staff have all the supports they need to reach their maximum potential.”
In Bossardet, Cronk replaces a principal with a very loyal following among his staff. “When I first heard the news, it felt like a gut punch,” one Buddy Taylor employee who asked not to be named, said when he left, and before it was known that Cronk would replace him. “Bobby is an amazing leader: a coach. I am sad to lose someone I trust wholeheartedly in the role of principal here at BTMS. But as I look around, I realize that we have many leaders on this campus. He has empowered us as a faculty and staff to lead from our current positions. BTMS is doing well this year, and we will continue to be better tomorrow. Bobby has enabled that within us, but he is not the only person who makes it happen. As horrible as the timing feels right now, BTMS will make it. We always do.”
The employee then added: “I do not know who will replace him. I just know that whoever does needs to be willing to allow BTMS to continue doing what it is doing now: serving our students to the best of our ability. And with Bobby at the district, I think Flagler Schools will be better too.”
DeFord built a loyal following of her own–to such a point that Belle Terre faculty seemed miffed that after she’d served almost a year as interim principal, the principalship was nevertheless being advertised. But the district was required to do so. The faculty started a change.org petition to have her hired permanently, opening a window into the sort of backing DeFord enjoyed.
“Jessica DeFord is phenomenal,” Susan Guarino wrote in the petition, started just a few weeks ago. “She has reorganized Belle Terre, been an amazing leader full of encouragement and guidance, directed our community through a pandemic, and so much more. Employees are so honored to work with and for her. Jessica is a woman of integrity and morals, who is also brilliant. Through all of that she remains humble, kind, and true. She is amazing! Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt, now that you’re here, I am hopeful you will make the right choice, and appoint Jessica as the permanent Principal at BTES.”
The petition drew 389 signatures and numerous additional comments, such as Ellen O’Shaughnessy’s: “Mrs. Deford provides a safe and respectful work environment where she considers everyone’s needs and offers support and encouragement to staff and students.” O’Shaughnessy’s description of DeFord is telling. Intended or not, it contrasts sharply with some of the criticism of the former principal who, though very popular in his own right, was enmeshed in some conflict with faculty and members of the PTO, where financial irregularities triggered the internal investigation into Culver’s management style. He did not survive the investigation, and was later the subject of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. (That investigation closed and no charges were filed, an FDLE spokesperson said today.)
Cronk attended Florida Atlantic University for her undergraduate degree in Education and American College of Education for her Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Administration. She’s worked with Flagler Schools since August 2004. Cronk has two daughters, and her husband Justin Cronk is Dean of Students at Indian Trails. DeFord is married to Kenneth DeFord, a teacher at Bunnell Elementary. They have two children. Their son Blane is a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School and their daughter Myla, a 2017 FPC graduate, is a combat medic with the United States Army.
Both appointments are officially recommendations to the school board, which must ratify them. But the board is expected to do so readily.