Mary Freitas won’t settle for anything less than high expectations for her students at Lennard High School.
“We want to set high expectations for our students to be successful not only in school but as they enter out into the real world as well,” said Freitas, who officially took over as principal at the Ruskin school July 1.
Freitas started in Hillsborough County in 2000 as a teacher at Plant High, later serving as an assistant principal at Sickles and Steinbrenner high schools before joining Lennard in 2012. She was the assistant principal for curriculum at Lennard and replaces Craig Horstman, who is now the district’s customer services manager.
Horstman has no doubt Freitas will succeed in the new post.
“She’s already an integral part of the school,” Horstman said. “She knows the faculty, she knows the students, she knows the community, she knows the school. She’s a real go-getter and knows what needs to be done to run the school productively and efficiently.”
Approachable and always quick with a joke, Freitas tries to make everyone a winner in any situation. “She’s willing to help anyone and does whatever she can to make everything a win-win situation,” Horstman said.
Horstman, who was also the assistant principal for curriculum when he moved into the big seat at Lennard in 2008, said there will be new challenges ahead for Freitas but nothing she cannot handle.
“There are just things you deal with as a principal that you don’t think about before you have the job,” Horstman said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, but it’s nothing she can’t figure out.”
“You are always surprised when you get the job you were wanting, but it was definitely something I was hoping would happen,” Freitas said as she settled into her new office. “We have a fantastic faculty, and we also have some of the best students around, so I am excited to continue on here and just move into a different leadership role.”
A dual-enrollment academy at Lennard that lets students take classes at Hillsborough Community College’s Ruskin campus is directly across the street from the school on Shell Point Road, a program Freitas is proud her students use.
She said, “In the past, we have had juniors and seniors who spent part of their day with us here at Lennard and then go across the street to HCC earning 36 college credits, but this past year we started our first freshman cohort at HCC.”
Freshmen who stay the course will be able to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate Lennard.
“It’s something we are proud of and it’s a great partnership with the HCC South Shore campus; we work very well with them,” Freitas said.
The new principal has no plans to make any changes at the school.
“Right now we want to just continue the path we are on,” Freitas said. “We made some great gains academically last year, saw some gains in terms of our FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and EOC (End of Course) scores. All of those are on the upward swing, so we just want to keep that pattern going of setting high expectations for the students and for the teachers working with those kids and helping them to be successful.”
For new teachers hoping to join the staff at Lennard, the ability to work with others is key, Freitas said.
“The biggest thing I look for in a new teacher is teamwork because our faculty and staff work very well together and are very supportive of each other, so you have to be the type of person who can work with others because it takes everyone’s contribution to make it a great team.”
Working in isolation won’t work, Freitas believes.
“If you are a great teacher, you want to bring people up. If you are a struggling teacher, you want to seek out those who have the right answers, but we all have to work together to have student success.”
Looking ahead, Freitas sees change as the biggest challenge of her tenure.
“For any administrator or any school, it’s just navigating the world of high school,” she said. “Adapting to the constant change, making sure your students are prepared for the changing standardized tests. I don’t think there’s a particular challenge I have here at Lennard; I think it’s just across the board because there’s such constant change in education that you have to stay on top of that. ”