Last Updated: 12:57 p.m.
Flagler County superintendents’ recent habit of using Volusia County as an Eldorado of potential principals for its two high schools is continuing as Greg Schwartz, Principal at South Daytona Elementary, today was named principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Schwartz replaces Tom Russell, the popular and charismatic principal who’d led FPC for less than two years by the time of his death from covid last December.
Schwartz, one of 38 candidates to apply for the FPC post, is the fourth Volusia candidate in the last four years to be named principal at one of Flagler’s two high schools, starting with Jeff Reaves at Matanzas High School in 2016, followed by Bob Wallace–a former boss of Schwartz’s–and Russell at FPC. But Schwartz, an Ormond Beach resident, has intimate connections to Flagler and FPC in particular: his sons attends the school and both are on the wrestling team, and one of them also plays on its football team. His daughter is involved in afterschool activities in Palm Coast.
“I believe the most important thing that I can bring to Flagler Palm Coast HS is stability,” Schwartz wrote as part of his job application, when asked why he should be the distinctive choice. “FPC has had an extremely rough year with the loss of their beloved Principal Tom Russell as well as two students this spring, I feel the pain as I have lived it as a parent and community member. The school needs someone that is dedicated to the students, staff, and community and that can be counted on for the long haul. I have enjoyed my time as a parent of Bulldogs and now want to ‘officially’ join the Bulldog family.
The “big shoes to fill” metaphor is undoubtedly about to haunt him down every corridor for the next few weeks, however, in light of the boosting record Russell built very quickly at FPC and his untimely death. Then again, Schwartz may have had a shoehorn in Bobby Bossardet, who led FPC on an interim basis since January. And his psychedelic sense of humor–whether in his choice of ties, his occasional wigs or weakness for costumes, or his encouragements of the occasional brain break–may help ease his way. That and a collection of masks as outlandish as Doc Severinsen’s pants. But that’s about the extent of the outlandish on his Twitter feed, which otherwise brims with standard-issue championing of his school, his colleagues and his family.
While FPC’s last two principals were more at the leeward side of their careers, their children grown and the bulk of their achievements behind them–Wallace was pulled out of retirement to take over FPC for that lone year–Schwartz’s profile rather evokes that of Jacob Oliva, another previous principal at FPC whose seasoned resume eventually led him to the superintendent’s port and now to the chancellorship of Florida schools.
Schwartz was a teacher and coach for 15 years, starting at Atlantic High School before earning his master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration from Nova Southeastern University. After a stint at Seabreeze High School, he became assistant principal at South Daytona Elementary for four years, then took part in the “principal intern” program at Pine Trail Elementary in 2016. The following year he became principal at Pathways Elementary in Ormond Beach. (See his one-page resume here.)
“In each role, I have enjoyed collaborating and engaging with the students as well as fellow staff members,” he writes on his LinkedIn profile. “I enjoy deep sea fishing and spending time with my large extended family. As a father of three children and husband, I have been an active volunteer coach in youth sports in my community as well. I pride myself on being a level headed, enthusiastic, active member of the our local schools and community.”
In a release posted a little after 7 this morning, the district noted that Schwartz went through “an unprecedented process” to earn the job, with the final round of interviews conducted by a group that included faculty, staff, student, and parent representatives. Mittlestadt’s own executive staff watched the interviews remotely to give the superintendent additional perspectives.
“I wanted to make sure our major stakeholders at Flagler-Palm Coast High School had a part in determining their next leader,” Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said. “There are easier and faster ways to do this, but it is important that we fill this vacancy with the right person to move FPCHS forward. Greg is that person.”
That interviewing committee was made up of Mittlestadt, Human Resources Director Jewel Johnson, a junior class officer representing students, Shelley Ragsdale of the African American Mentoring Program, FPC teacher Evana Frettard, FPC Counselor Phil DeAugustino, FPC Teacher of the Year Tina McNally, and Trish Giaccone, a parent and the director of the Family Life Center.
John Fanelli, the former principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School and current coordinator of student supports and behavior, and Robert Oulette, head of professional standards, were among internal candidates who made the shortlist. (See a complete list of applicants here.)
Schwartz was asked several written questions as part of his application. One of them asked how he’d handle a teacher or staff member disputing his instructions. ” I would meet with that individual in my office,” Schwartz wrote. “I would allow the teacher to ‘vent’ or discuss and then I would present the data behind the decision I made. If at that time the teacher continues to dispute the instructions given, then I would have to move to disciplinary action. The vast majority of situations can be handled through common-sense communication.”
Asked how a fellow administrator would describe him, he wrote: “Greg is someone who really cares about the students, staff, and community of the school
where he works. He builds a positive culture where everyone feels valued and loved and no one person is bigger than the other. Greg has a huge heart that will always do what is right for students and he will always fight for the underdog. During the school day you will find Greg in classrooms and commons areas and not in his office and he always attends after school activities and sporting events. Greg is data driven and makes decision based on data trends and best practices.”
Joe Rizzo, president of the Flagler Education Foundation, the non-profit support arm of the district, did not take part in the interviews, but has known Schwartz for a few years, since their sons wrestle together. “I think he is very charismatic, he’s the kind of person that FPC needs,” Rizzo said, with experience of a “diverse school” in Volusia that he can now apply to FPC, the district’s most diverse–and most challenging–campus, whose combined student, faculty and staff population approached that of Bunnell before the pandemic. “Greg is going to be that charismatic leader, he has the ability to be there for a long time, which we haven’t had in a while, he brings a coaching aspect to his leadership, that’s something that Tom Russell also did, and building relationships is important to Greg.”
Rizzo said FPC needed “somebody who’s pretty dynamic” to follow what he described as “a giant like Tom Russell,” and in Schwartz, had found that leader. “I think you’re going to see pretty phenomenal things from him.”
One of Schwartz’s references was Dusty Sims, himself a former principal at FPC and now a supervisor at the state Department of Education. “Greg is an outstanding leader who has a great understanding of culture and climate,” Sims wrote, referring to Schwartz’s strong points. His weak points? A learning curve, being new to Flagler. (Several other people who were contacted by the district in writing improbably cited no weak points, and one of them chose to make a joke of the question.)
Heidi Flannery, who was Schwartz’s instructional coach when he was principal at Pathways, said he was highly visible around campus–a quality he appears to share with Russell–whose positive vibe was “contagious,” and whose ability to develop trusting relationships extended to students, parents and faculty.
“In my 20+ years of teaching, I have never worked with a more upbeat, positive, and motivated leader,” Flannery concluded. “He changed the morale at our school and made our teachers feel like they could conquer anything. He was always the first one to jump in to help a teacher, lend a helping hand or be a listening ear for a student. He held all of his faculty and staff as well as himself to high standards with the attitude of we can do anything together. Doing what is best for students always drove his decisions. He would make an exceptional principal for any school.”