SOUTH TAMPA — A new headmaster is preparing to take the helm at St. John’s Episcopal Parish Day School this summer.
Robert Stephens Jr., a Pinellas County native, will replace Headmaster Gordon Rode on July 1, the school announced recently. Stephens is coming from Miami, where he has served as head of The Heritage School since 2006.
“I’m very excited to get there,” said Stephens, 46.
One of his priorities when he takes the position is to develop a plan to expand the school — there are three campuses in Hyde Park — without encroaching upon its neighbors, he said.
Last year, Hyde Park residents protested the school’s plan to demolish a historic house it owned and relocate another, making room for a new, two-story addition that would have towered over nearby homes on Bayshore Boulevard.
Neighbors posted yellow signs in their yards decrying the move and cited worries about added traffic and declines in property values.
The school, after several meetings with the local neighborhood association, held off on its expansion plan.
Expanding to provide adequate facilities for students — including studios and science laboratories — while also being sensitive to the neighborhood will be a challenge, Stephens said. But it can be done if the school gets creative, he said.
“It has to be something that everyone can move forward with,” Stephens said.
Stephens was selected from a pool of applicants during a nationwide search that began in August after Rode, who was at St. John’s for eight years, announced he was leaving to pursue his next professional opportunity.
Stephens was chosen based on his years of experience as an administrator with private, Christian-based schools, said Stephen French, chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
For years, Stephens also has served on the board of directors and the accreditation commission for the Florida Council of Independent Schools, which oversees private schools across the state, French said.
St. John’s Episcopal Day School was founded in 1951 by the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. The school enrolls students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Now that his youngest daughter is leaving for college, he is excited to get back to the Tampa area, Stephens said. And St. John’s has a great reputation.
“I really appreciate the strength of tradition and culture at St. John’s,” he said.