Deputy Lyons named interim superintendent


Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.

The Alachua County School Board unanimously named Deputy Superintendent Hershel Lyons as interim superintendent of schools last Wednesday during a special meeting.

Lyons will take over for outgoing Superintendent Dan Boyd on Oct. 1.

"[Lyons] has the skills, he has the experiences to maintain and enhance the quality of education for our students of Alachua County," School Board member Leanetta McNealy said just before the vote.

The next order of business at the meeting was to start the process of searching for a new superintendent of schools. Lyons said he would not be applying for the permanent position.

"It is the most important decision you're going to make. You have to find someone who's going to work with you, you have to find someone who's going to work with your parents and teachers, and someone who's going to fit with this community," said Bill Graham, executive director of the Florida School Labor Relations Service and Florida Educational Negotiators.

Graham and Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, spoke to the School Board about its options for a search.

A nationwide search, as opposed to a local or statewide search, will probably garner about 40 applications, Blanton said.

The board seemed to be leaning toward a national search to attract the best candidates, although Blanton cautioned members to be specific about their desired qualifications when advertising for the position.

There are about 15,000 school districts in the United States, and 80 percent of them have fewer than 5,000 students, Blanton said.

By comparison, Alachua County has nearly 27,000 students.

"Do you want somebody who's got 800 students in Podunk, Texas, applying?" Blanton asked.

A national search would take about six months to complete and cost about $15,000 if the board decided to use the Florida School Boards Association to help, Blanton said.

Board members also unanimously voted to hire the School Boards Association to assist. The association has helped the Alachua County School Board find four of its superintendents, including Dan Boyd in 2004.

Blanton and Graham gave board members several points to think about.

First, board members need to think about goals and have a "get-honest-with-each-other" discussion about leadership style, Graham said.

Blanton said Alachua County is an attractive school district that is sure to garner plenty of qualified candidates, so board members will have to be highly selective.

"You need to read every resume," he said.

Blanton also encouraged the board to put together a citizens committee as soon as possible, composed of enough different people to accurately reflect the interests and demographics of the entire school district.

Board members agreed that community input will be important to the selection process.

McNealy said previously that she will insist on diversity in the citizens committee.

A timeline was not set during last Wednesday's meeting, although Blanton gave an idea of how a national search would go.

If the board started advertising in national publications beginning in December or January, he said, it could expect to hire a new superintendent by April.

If the board selects a sitting superintendent from another district, however, the person may not be able to come to Alachua County until next summer due to contracts with the other district.

Former county commissioner and Florida Rep. Cynthia Chestnut made an appearance at the meeting to ask the board to consider a national search.

The new superintendent, she said, needs to have experience with community involvement and in school districts that have a high proportion of students on free or reduced-price lunch.

Chestnut said an ideal candidate would hail from another state that uses the Common Core State Standards, and who values a multicultural education.

"To date, I have not seen the multicultural education weaved into the curriculum more than one month a year," she said. "We need all children to learn how to work with everyone, and I think that would solve some of the problems we're seeing now."

Chestnut also said she doesn't want to see any candidates come out of retirement for the position.

Board members agreed they would consider all those suggestions.

"We have a lot of decisions to make," Roy said.

Erin Jester is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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