Cynthia Novotny knows the building by heart. She knows each classroom at Griffin Elementary in Cooper City and teachers who work there.
What has changed for Novotny is her title. The word assistant has been removed. Now, she is the principal.
When school begins this fall, about 30 principals will be starting fresh at new schools -- more than ever before in Broward County, according to school administrators. Some have been promoted from assistant principals. Others have been brought in from school districts as close as Palm Beach County or as far away as New York.
The district has tried to keep principals who know the area, like Novotny, to strengthen community relations.
Many of the new principals were promoted from their assistant principal jobs.
"I think it helps when a new principal knows the school and the parents," Novotny said. "It makes our jobs a lot easier."
The large number of principals left, in part because of the Florida Deferred Retirement Option Program that allows employees to retire later and get more money out of their plans, said Dorothy Davis, with the district's administrative procedures office.
"People took advantage of the program," Davis said. "That is why we saw many principals leaving."
Five years ago, the DROP program was offered to employees who belong to the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan, which includes Broward School District employees.
The program allowed employees to sign on if they were age 62 with at least 10 years of service, or of any age with 30 years of service. Once they signed on, their retirement fund was sent into a separate account the employees could get after their five years were up.
That meant that a retired principal, for example, kept getting paid for five years and at the same time was able to save retirement funds for the same period, said Ron Weintraub, benefits director for the school district.
"That gets people to stay a little longer," Weintraub said. "We always need teachers, especially since we have such a shortage."
About 20 principals retired during the last school year and half of those belonged to the DROP program, he said.
That benefited assistant principals like Jody Perry, who served about 16 years as an assistant principal at Driftwood Middle in Hollywood. She was named principal.
"My goal has always been to be an education leader," Perry said. "I wanted to impact the most amount of students at once and I can do that as a principal."
As a teacher, as rewarding as it is, she can only reach a group of about 20 or so students at a time, she said.
As an assistant principal, she oversaw daily curriculum and programs targeting students at risk and those with disabilities.
"It sounds hard, but it is not. I loved it," she said.
She does not plan to make any drastic changes at the school that already received an "A" on Gov. Jeb Bush's A-Plus grading program.
"I love middle school," she said.
Novotny said she shares the same enthusiasm for the new challenge. It began to sink in when she walked out of the school one day in July and read in the marquee: New Griffin Principal Cynthia Novotny. Her dream had come true, she said. She became a teacher with the goal of becoming a principal.
"I love children. I have people skills and I have leadership skills," she said.
She does not plan to make any drastic changes, because she said her staff does a great job. But she would like to see more parents involved. She likes it at Griffin, Novotny said.
"I'm not going anywhere."
Edgar Sandoval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7910.