Eight named semifinalists for superintendent

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.

The Alachua County School Board settled on eight semifinalists for the superintendent's job Tuesday, despite a contingent of the community lobbying for one more candidate to be added to the list.

The eight semifinalists are James Browder, Mark Rendell, Marc Hutek, John Small, Owen Roberts, Robert Bolden, Bambi Lockman and Fred Heid.

Bolden is the only applicant who isn't currently in Florida. He hails from Eugene, Ore.

About 15 people came to the School Board's superintendent search meeting Tuesday to urge the board to include Interim Superintendent Hershel Lyons in the list of finalists.

School Board Chairman Gunnar Paulson was firm in his response.

“I know this is not going to be a popular statement, but this is a process, and we had a deadline for applications,” Paulson said after three people spoke during public comment.

Lyons did not officially apply for the superintendent's position, but in a Feb. 27 letter to the district advisory council chairman he said he would like to continue in his role permanently if the board couldn't find a suitable replacement from the pool of 27 candidates who sent applications.

For that reason, Paulson told the audience Tuesday that the School Board cannot consider Lyons for the permanent position.

Staff attorney David Delaney noted that if the current search ends in a draw, it would be up to the School Board to decide how to proceed.

During public comment, Newberry resident Karen Curran called the local support for Lyons a groundswell and warned the board to take notice.

“If you snub Mr. Lyons and bring in some outsider ... that person is going to have to, first of all, deal with the learning curve ... and second they're not going to have the support behind them that Mr. Lyons (would have),” she said.

Even School Board members April Griffin and Carol Oyenarte waffled, and briefly discussed changing the board's previously approved process for taking applicants to the board.

Paulson made it clear that would not happen.

Board member Eileen Roy said she was disturbed by the public comments about “snubbing” Lyons, settling for a candidate from outside the district and spending an unnecessary amount of money on the search.

Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton, who is assisting with the search, estimated the total cost at $15,000 — a price that Roy said is a pittance for finding a superintendent to lead the school district for potentially the next decade.

“I think it's rather insulting to say that any of these candidates that we choose would be settling,” she said.

Blanton, who background-checked the applicants and selected the eight he presented to the School Board Tuesday night based on weeks of interviews, said he's confident with the list.

Bill Graham, executive director of the Florida School Labor Relations Service and Florida Educational Negotiators, said the overall quality of the list was higher than most he'd seen in his years as a school board member.

Browder has 30 years of experience in education, including nine years as a superintendent in Florida and Alaska. Currently, he works for the Department of Education as a regional representative in South Florida's low-performing schools.

“I think he's always done the right thing professionally,” said Blanton, who interviewed him.

Rendell is deputy superintendent of schools in St. Lucie County. Although Blanton said Rendell's references gave no negative comments, Griffin said she was concerned that he's only spent one year at the district level.

Hutek was never a teacher — instead, he went from serving as a police officer to being a guidance counselor, then a principal. Since 2010 he's been the director of adult education for Hillsborough County Schools.

Still, “When you have not experienced, when you have not been in the trenches … there's something missing, for me,” board member Leanetta McNealy said.

Small is the senior director of career technical, adult and multiple pathways education for Polk County Schools. His strengths include fundraising and managing a large district.

“You will not find a more energetic person than John Small,” Blanton said.

Roberts is the longest-serving member of Florida's assessment committee, with an extensive resume of academic achievement and ability to communicate with anyone, Blanton said. He lives in South Florida.

“I gave Dr. Roberts an A+ out of all the candidates,” Roy said.

Bolden, the only out-of-state candidate, was once the administrator of the year in Oregon for his work in closing the achievement gap in his home state.

McNealy said she favors Bolden because of his continued efforts to advance African-American students, but he is applying for superintendent jobs in other school districts.

Lockman is the only woman on the list of semifinalists, and for that reason McNealy and Roy said she must be allowed to interview in Gainesville and have a shot at the permanent position.

Blanton backed Lockman for her expertise and background in pioneering special-education programs in Santa Rosa County. She's currently the deputy superintendent in Volusia County.

Heid is the chief academic officer for Duval County and has worked for the Florida DOE. Blanton said student academic improvement is Heid's strong suit.

The School Board and the district advisory council will review the semifinalists and decide at an April 15 meeting on a smaller group of finalists to bring to Gainesville.

“I believe we have eight excellent candidates,” Blanton said. “I know you have a tough job ahead of you, and I hope we made it tougher.”

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