Cypress Creek Middle High School principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles was vacationing in Europe on Nov. 4, when she got an unexpected video call from Kurt Browning, the Superintendent of Pasco County Schools.
“Hey, Carin,” Browning said, “I know you’re in the middle of vacation, but we wanted to let you know that you are Pasco’s Principal of the Year.”
Hetzler-Nettles was chosen to represent Pasco County Schools as its nominee for Florida’s Principal of the Year.
“Carin’s colleagues nominated her from among all district principals,” says Linda Cobbe, public information officer for Pasco County Schools. “The nominations were narrowed to three finalists, based on the number of votes each received, and then we had a vote among all administrators for District Principal of the Year, and she won.”
School Board chair Cynthia Armstrong and School Board member Colleen Beaudoin joined Browning on the call, which was posted on Pasco County Schools’ Facebook page, and offered their congratulations.
“We’re excited for you,” Browning said. “You’re a great principal. We’re excited about what you’ve done in the district and what you’re doing at Cypress Creek.”
“Thank you so much,” Hetzler-Nettles responded, smiling. “I appreciate it. I’m very humbled.”
Hetzler-Nettles, “embodies what a leader is,” said the nomination. “She drives the learning community forward in every way, while supporting staff growth. She always places kids first.”
“She’s an awesome teacher, mentor and friend,” says Tim Light, an assistant principal at Cypress Creek who has worked with Hetzler-Nettles since 2011. “I’m the administrator I am because of her.”
Light says that Hetzler-Nettles is deserving of the designation because of her hard work and commitment to opening Cypress Creek, which opened in the fall of 2017, and her dedication to building the community within the school and all of its stakeholders.
It was no easy task, say those who laud Hetzler-Nettles for her success. She had to find the right balance and build unity at Cypress Creek with students — not all of whom were happy to be switching schools after the rezoning process — from three high schools, three middle schools and several elementary schools.
Hetzler-Nettles was not only tasked with bringing these diverse groups together, but with it being a brand new school, also was responsible for things like figuring out furniture to coming up with a mascot for the school.
“She was charged with…creating its mission and motto, and getting a staff on board to live and breathe the mission and motto every day,” Light says. “She took a very difficult job and got the buy-in from all the stakeholders and created the culture here that is like no other. That’s why she got the award and why she deserves it.”
Hetzler-Nettles was previously the principal at Wesley Chapel High. Dee Dee Johnson succeeded her as principal when Hetzler-Nettles was chosen for Cypress Creek.
“She had a lot of work ahead of her,” Johnson says. “She started as a team of one, went in there full steam ahead, and knew she would go in and do what’s best for kids, and make the school great.”
Her focus is on making the experience of learning enjoyable for the students, Johnson and Light agree, and building a staff that can accomplish that. With any new school, developing traditions and pride — like creating a code of personal behavior called “The Coyote Way” — can go a long way towards making that school successful.
“I feel very fortunate that I was able to work for her for several years and learn from her,” Johnson says, “She’s very deserving.”