Seven people remain in the hunt to become Florida's next education commissioner. On Tuesday, the State Board of Education will trim the list further. Leading to that Sept. 18 meeting, the Gradebook will provide mini-profiles, one each day, on the candidates. Today, meet Earl Lennard.
If Earl Lennard is named Florida's next education commissioner, it will be the first time in a 40-year education career he has left Hillsborough County. The son of a truck farmer and a graduate of local schools, he worked his way up from a classroom teacher to the superintendent of one of Florida's largest and, at the time, fastest-growing districts. (See his resume here.)
Lennard's no stranger to the idiosyncrasies of Florida's school system, from its unique financing system to its quirky politics. In nine years as a local schools chief, he led Hillsborough into the brave new world of FCAT, school grades and controlled choice (see story here), and through a period of massive schools construction. (For stories that bookend his term, see here and here.)
His tenure wasn't without controversy: A whistle-blower case dragged on (see stories here, here and here), and Lennard was tied to complaints of cronyism in a district some still see as a good-old-boys network (see stories here and here). But his trademark, the St. Petersburg Times wrote, was "quiet change." Given the lightning-rod qualities of the last two commissioners and the storm clouds that keep the FCAT-based accountability system in a funk, that quality alone make some ed observers think Lennard is the dark horse for the commish job.
As superintendent, Lennard won over folks who didn't support him in the beginning. He managed to maintain good relations with both the local teachers union and state officials pushing accountability. And early in his tenure, he put his money where his mouth was, vowing in 1999 to take a pay cut if any Hillsborough school got an F grade from the state (see story here). At the time, Lennard said he wanted to send a message to teachers and principals that he would feel the pressure to improve as much as they did: "When you do what we did, you make it personal – that you, too, are putting yourself on the line, along with the people in the schools," he said.
In the letter he submitted as part of the commissioner search, Lennard applauds the changes the Board of Education has made in recent years. He also stresses he's a team player: "The success we all seek only comes from being an effective team member, and remembering that regardless of the position at one time or another we are all leaders and we are all followers," he wrote. "That is the type of leader I have tried to be, and I believe it is the type of leader that the Commissioner of Education ought to be."
- Letitia Stein and Ron Matus
Tomorrow: Joseph Marinelli