Roberts chosen as new school superintendent


Dr. Owen Roberts, third finalist for the superintendent's position, mingles before a community forum at the Matheson Museum on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 11:41 a.m.

Correction: Scott Ward is the chief financial officer for Alachua County Public Schools. An earlier version of this article misstated his name.

The new superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools will also be the first black person to assume the top job in district history.

Owen Roberts, of Lauderdale Lakes, accepted the board's offer Tuesday evening after members voted unanimously to bring him on board with a minimum three-year contract.

Board chairman Gunnar Paulson held his cellphone to his microphone during the meeting so the audience at the Kirby-Smith Center could hear Roberts' response.

"I am very honored," Roberts said. "I will accept."

"I will do everything in my power to meet the expectations of the board and the community," he added.

Paulson said he will start negotiations with Roberts as soon as possible. The board offered a salary range of $140,000 to $170,000 with full benefits.

Scott Ward, chief financial officer for Alachua County Public Schools, said the district budgeted $29,000 for the cost of the search but he didn't have the actual cost of the search Tuesday evening.

Paulson thanked Interim Superintendent Hershel Lyons for his work in steering the school district since former Superintendent Dan Boyd's retirement in September.

"It has been commendable, and you've done it in a very professional manner. It's been a pleasure," Paulson said.

Roberts has nearly 40 years of experience in education.

He began his career teaching math, biology, chemistry and physics in the Bahamas and his native Jamaica in the mid-1970s, later holding several school- and district-based leadership positions in both nations.

Roberts was head of the curriculum department for Monroe County Schools for six years and taught a graduate course at the University of Miami before joining St. Lucie County Schools as executive director of accountability and assessment in 2004. He spent seven years as associate superintendent of curriculum and accountability before retiring in 2012.

Roberts holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and religion, master's degrees in computer studies and educational and psychological research, evaluation and statistical methodology, and a Ph.D. in educational research and evaluation.

Roberts has been a member of numerous educational research organizations and committees, including the FCAT Technical Advisory Committee and a state delegation to the national consortium developing an assessment for the Common Core State Standards.

Roberts was the top choice for Paulson and board members Eileen Roy and Leanetta McNealy in a straw poll taken before the actual vote.

Mark Rendell, of Melbourne, was the board's second choice and James Browder, of Fort Myers, came in third.

Board members April Griffin and Carol Oyenarte didn't vote in the straw poll.

Griffin explained that she had concerns about each candidate, so she didn't feel right about recommending one over another. She promised to stand behind the one chosen, however.

"In the best interests of our students and district, I will support whoever is selected as our next superintendent," she said.

Oyenarte said she didn't vote because none of the superintendent candidates met the board's criteria for applicants.

In fact, Roberts and Browder did meet the board's baseline requirements of 10 years of administrative experience in a district of at least 15,000 students and advanced degrees in education. Rendell did not have 10 years of administrative experience but met the other two baseline requirements.

"But this is my opinion and I'm the one sitting here," Oyenarte said.

But, she added, "Whoever this board hires by majority, I will unequivocally support."

Paulson, Roy and McNealy agreed that Rendell was an impressive candidate, with extensive knowledge of Alachua County Public Schools' strategic plan and clear goals for improving early childhood education, but that he was a little too inexperienced.

Paulson said he's sure Rendell will become a superintendent in the near future.

School Board members said they were initially impressed with Browder's experience — nine years total as a superintendent, with a skill for improving student achievement and budgeting — but had serious doubts about him based on his track record of two buyouts and one mysterious 15-month superintendent stint.

"It would be foolish to ignore warning signs," Roy said.

Despite Griffin and Oyenarte's concerns, all five board members expressed support for Roberts' experience and expertise, enthusiasm and character.

"Nobody's perfect, but this guy is pretty good … he's exceptional," Paulson said. "I am so excited about this man coming to our community."

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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