Tampa Preparatory School leader fell in love with education

Linda D. Garrow

Kevin Plummer, head of the prestigious Tampa Preparatory School, says he was “super lucky’’ when he won the job in 2007.

“I just fell in love with this school,” he says.

Plummer taught in his native state of Colorado and served as head of a private middle school in Philadelphia before joining Tampa Prep, where tuition for high school students is about $26,000 a year. He’s a graduate of Colby College in Maine, where he was an all-American lacrosse player. He earned a master’s degree in education administration from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Plummer, 55, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about education and Tampa Prep.

What drew you to education?

The honest answer to that is my parents were educators. I was 100 percent sure – if you ask any of my childhood friends they’d tell you – I was committed to being an attorney. … When I graduated from college, I ended up taking a job just as an intern at my high school and I just fell in love with education. … My mom had been a university professor; my dad had been a public-school principal. When you’re around kids, you just get this energy. … It’s just great to be a part of watching a young person become a young adult and to learn and to get ready for life.

What is the mission of Tampa Prep?

Our mission is pretty simple and it’s really elegant at the same time. It’s to think, create, be yourself, aspire to excellence and go beyond. More than a college preparatory school, a preparation for life with a higher purpose for themselves. That is our mission statement and that is a piece of this culture and community that really resonates with me. It’s got all the pieces that are important to me: the pieces around intellectual inquiry, the pieces about being true to yourself and becoming a person of integrity and value. It has elements that ask you to go on a journey and to explore, and then it has a commitment that this is more than just about going to college. This is about becoming a human being that will be caring and careful, that will be thoughtful and a thought leader, that will be willing to serve others and understand the strength of community.

How do you teach those values, in ethics classes or do all teachers sound that drum?

Our community here and our culture here, for success, it requires you to be kind. For success, it requires you to be thoughtful. It requires you to be curious, it requires you to be supportive, and so we end up getting these amazing sort of life lessons done partially out of the commitment and the willingness to be a part of the community that’s going to prioritize certain characteristics: kindness, honesty, integrity and certain values, truth and responsibility. … Some of it’s over curriculum, in the study of English, the study of literature, the study of history and the study of the responsibility around scientific inquiry.

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What does Tampa Prep do that goes beyond the traditional requirements of Florida schools?

For us, we have a thing called concentrations. And concentrations are – I think the best way to put it, a good metaphor, is they’re majors inside of our school. When a student is a sophomore you have the opportunity to choose a concentration, and when you do that, you’re basically sort of committing yourself to something that you’re deeply passionate about. Not all of the students pick concentrations, but that’s one of the things that is above and beyond the traditional mix. 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 have to meet certain academic qualifications to get into Tampa Prep?

Absolutely. It’s a full-blown admissions process that includes interviews with families, interviews with the student. Of course, we’d like the student to also visit the school and see if this is a space and place that’s exciting for them. We do ask that our students come with a rich desire to learn, so we’re going to look at their previous academic work, transcripts, we’re going to look at how they score on placement tests to really make sure that after they’re accepted, that they are joining our program in a place in which they will be stretched as a learner. We don’t want kids to be bored here at all.

Is it possible to flunk out of Tampa Prep?

Yes, it is. We try to do everything in our power to help a child find success. When a child fails out of an institution like ours, they have to actually put some considerable effort into that, because we’re deeply interested in helping a child find their academic footing. If you’ve gone through the process of admissions here, the first belief is that you are academically ready to succeed and thrive at the school. So if you start having difficulties here, we’re very interested to find out what’s the root of that difficulty.

What percentage of your students receive scholarships or financial aid?

About 22 percent of our students receive need-based financial aid. … It’s really based (on) the financial needs of families. We’re really, really proud of our socio-economic diversity at the school. And we give out 11 percent of our annual budget, so this year it was just a little bit over $1.8 million.

How have you been dealing with COVID-19?

We were fully remote for 10 weeks, and that was sort of the national call-out. Then our next strategy that we had for last year’s school year, for about three-quarters of the school year, we did what we called the hybrid block schedule, in which we only had 350 kids in the building at a time and that was to be able to provide the physical distancing necessary for health and safety. And this year we return back to our traditional schedule and we have all 700 kids in the building. Right now, in response to omicron, we have returned to masks, and that’s just due to the highly contagious nature of this thing. I’m hoping that it passes quickly so we can go back to a mask-optional personal responsibility school.

So, you’re not governed by the state’s prohibition of mask mandates?

We don’t accept state or federal funds, so HB (House Bill) 1 does not apply to us.

For more information, go to tampaprep.org.


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