Dominick Ferello incited a mob of first-graders on Monday.
It was Ferello's first day back on the job as principal of Explorer K-8 after a six-week break as he recovered from an illness, and Angela Esposito's class was clearly happy to see him.
"I was very sick, I listened to the doctors and nurses, I got better and now I'm fine," Ferello told the swarm of children that buzzed around him when he walked through the door.
When one boy asked why he fell ill, Ferello replied, "I guess I didn't take very good care of myself."
That's about all he would tell a reporter in his office a few minutes earlier. He declined to elaborate on what caused him to be admitted to two hospitals last month, including a stay in the intensive care unit of Tampa General Hospital.
"I just think that's personal," said Ferello, 54. "It's not like there's some deep dark secret."
He called the ordeal "a very frightening experience" made a little less difficult for his family by the support of staffers and new friends in Hernando County.
That's especially helpful as Ferello's wife, Vivian, and their two children are still not very familiar with the area, he said. The Ferellos moved from Broward County when Ferello was hired to lead Explorer in its first year.
"That's what I love about Hernando that I didn't see in Broward," he said. "When there's a crisis, people come together like a family."
He did concede that the challenges that come with that job may have motivated him to push himself a little too hard and that the illness was a "wake-up call."
"I'm prone to spend maybe more time than I should sometimes," he said. "I realized through this that you have to balance between professional life and personal life."
Now he's ready to pick up where Dave Schoelles, a former principal who now works as the district's curriculum specialist, left off. Superintendent Wayne Alexander tapped Schoelles to lead the school in Ferello's absence.
Teachers and staff have spoken highly of Schoelles for providing direction and clearing up some issues such as internal scheduling, room assignments and other logistics, Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President Joe Vitalo said last week.
Ferello said he began to feel better in the last few weeks and got updates from Schoelles on Explorer's progress.
"I knew what was going on but wanted to leave him alone to run the school, and he did a wonderful job," Ferello said.
Ferello said he believes Explorer is now out of the "survival mode" that is necessary in the first few months of the first year of a 2,000-student school. The traffic problems that plagued the school have been cleared up, he said, and teachers and students alike are settling into a routine.
He said it's time to review the school's mission statement to make sure progress is on track.
As well, Explorer is home to the county's Quest Academy, the center for gifted students that draws nearly 300 children from throughout the county. Ferello said he is pleased with the center's curriculum and that the school's Gifted Advisory Committee, comprised of parents and teachers to advise the school's administration, is nearly up and running.
"Like the school, as it grows it will develop," he said of the gifted center.
While he didn't go so far as a hug, teacher Jason Yungmann stopped Ferello in the hall to say hello Monday.
"It's great to have our boss back," Yungmann said.