Kevin Plummer, principal of the prestigious Tampa Preparatory School, says he was “super lucky” when he landed the job in 2007.
“I just fell in love with this school,” he says.
Plummer taught in his home state of Colorado and ran a private college in Philadelphia before joining Tampa Prep, where high school tuition costs about $26,000 a year. He graduated from Colby College in Maine, where he was an American lacrosse player. He earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Plummer, 55, spoke with the Tampa Bay Weather on Education and Tampa Prep.
What drew you to education?
The honest answer to that is that my parents were educators. I was 100% sure – if you ask any of my childhood friends, they would tell you – that I was signing up to be a lawyer. … When I graduated from college, I ended up taking a job as an intern at my high school and fell in love with education. … My mother had been a university professor; my father had been a public school principal. When you’re with kids, you just get that energy. … It’s just great to see a young person grow into a young adult and learn and prepare for life.
What is Tampa Prep’s mission?
Our mission is quite simple and it’s really elegant at the same time. It’s thinking, creating, being yourself, striving for excellence and going beyond. More than a college preparatory school, a preparation for life with a higher purpose for themselves. It’s our mission statement and it’s an element of this culture and community that really resonates with me. It contains all the plays that are important to me: the plays around intellectual pursuit, the plays about being true to yourself and becoming a person of integrity and worth. It has elements that ask you to go on a journey and explore, and then it commits that it’s not just about going to college. It is about becoming a human being who will be caring and careful, who will be thoughtful and a thought leader, who will be willing to serve others and understand the strength of community.
How do you teach these values, in ethics classes or do all teachers sound this drum?
Our community here and our culture here, to be successful you have to be nice. To be successful, you need to be thoughtful. It forces you to be curious, it forces you to be supportive, and so we end up getting these incredible life lessons in part through the commitment and willingness to be part of the community that’s going to prioritize certain characteristics : kindness, honesty, integrity and certain values, truth and responsibility. … It’s partly on the school curriculum, in the study of English, the study of literature, the study of history, and the study of responsibility around scientific research.
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What does Tampa Prep do that goes beyond traditional Florida school requirements?
For us, we have a thing called concentrations. And the majors are – I think the best way to put it, a good metaphor is that they’re majors inside our school. When a student is in the second year, you have the opportunity to choose a concentration, and when you do, you’re kind of committing to something you’re deeply passionate about. Not all students choose concentrations, but this is one of the things that goes beyond the traditional blend. Our concentrations, we have a STEM concentration, we have a Global Studies concentration, we have an Arts concentration, and we have a Humanities concentration.
Do students need to meet certain academic qualifications to get into Tampa Prep?
Absoutely. It is a fully-fledged admissions process that includes interviews with families, interviews with the student. Of course, we would like the student to also visit the school and see if it is a space and a place that they are passionate about. We ask our students to come with a rich desire to learn, so we’re going to look at their past academic work, their transcripts, we’re going to look at how they score on placement tests to really make sure that after they’ re accepted, that they join our program in a place where they will be stretched as a learner. We don’t want kids to get bored here at all.
Is it possible to miss Tampa Prep?
Yes it is. We try to do everything in our power to help a child succeed. When a child fails in an institution like ours, he must put considerable effort into it, because we are deeply interested in helping a child find his academic path. If you have gone through the admissions process here, the first belief is that you are academically ready to succeed and thrive in school. So if you start having difficulty here, we are very interested to know what is the root of this difficulty.
What percentage of your students receive scholarships or financial aid?
Approximately 22% of our students receive need-based financial aid. … It’s really based (on) the financial needs of the families. We are really, really proud of our socio-economic diversity at school. And we donate 11% of our annual budget, so this year it was just over $1.8 million.
How did you handle COVID-19?
We were completely isolated for 10 weeks, and that was sort of the national roll call. Then our next strategy that we had for the school year last year, for about three-quarters of the school year, we did what we called the hybrid block schedule, in which we n We only had 350 children in the building at any one time and that was to be able to provide the physical distancing necessary for health and safety. And this year we’re going back to our traditional schedule and we have all 700 kids in the building. Right now, in response to omicron, we’ve gone back to masks, and that’s just due to the highly contagious nature of this thing. I hope it passes quickly so that we can return to a school of personal responsibility with optional masks.
So you’re not governed by the state’s ban on mask mandates?
We do not accept state or federal funds, so HB (House Bill) 1 does not apply to us.
For more information, visit tampaprep.org.