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 meeting, the Gradebook will provide mini profiles, one each day, on the candidates. Today, meet Joseph Marinelli. (This is the last one. For the previous profiles, click here.)
Marinelli has been a top school administrator in upstate New York for 13 years. But what is striking about his resume is the emphasis on his long-ago activities in Florida. Almost as lengthy as the civic and professional involvements he lists in New York are the many ties he once had in the state where he came of age: board of directors for the University of Florida Alumni Association, president and charter member of the Gator Club of Central Florida, president of the Florida Association of School Administrators, and on and on.
Turns out he has straddled the two states since childhood. Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., his family moved to Miami when he was 8. When he left state in 1989 to take a superintendent’s job in Michigan, he had been rising through the ranks for 12 years at Orange County Schools in Orlando and was an associate superintendent. Since 1994, Marinelli has served in a dual role in New York’s rural Finger Lakes region, about 35 miles southeast of Rochester. He’s a superintendent overseeing 25 school districts in five counties and also CEO of a cooperative that answers to an elected school board and provides services and programs that small districts couldn’t pay for on their own.
Marinelli declined to discuss his bid to be Florida Education Commissioner, saying Florida officials asked him not speak with the media until his interviews were complete. But his application materials provide some insights, as do the notes we kept from 2004 when he applied to become superintendent of Pinellas Schools. At the time, Marinelli told the Pinellas School Board he never expected to spend so much time in New York and it has long been his goal to return to Florida.
Now 64, he makes the same point in his application for the commissioner’s job, saying: “I spent 30 years in Florida, 20 years of those as a professional educator. I would welcome the opportunity to return to Florida where I spent most of my professional career in order to accept the professional challenge of leading the improvement of K-12 and postsecondary student performance.”
During his Pinellas interview, he called himself a “vision-setter,” a “collaborator,” an “enabler,” and a “catalyst …. but one who is not a controller. One who does not have an authoritarian style of leadership.” He spoke at length about driving performance at schools by using assessments, finding the right school leaders, getting teachers to be engaged and dealing with different student learning styles. Near the end of the interview, when board members asked what his legacy would be, Marinelli said, “I want to be remembered for having taken an organization where the parts existed separately and brought them into a whole.” He also said he was someone who challenged his staff to perform better and gave them the leverage to do it.
At the time, we talked to Mary Lue Mueller, a dairy farmer and board president of the cooperative Marinelli runs. Echoing others who gave glowing references, she found him to be open-minded, a good listener and manager of his time, always prepared and responsive. “He’s been able to assemble a wonderful administrative staff,” Mueller said. “That definitely is the sign of a good CEO, that you can get people on board that you can work with and get the job done.” She described Marinelli as easy-going with a good sense of humor. “He appears calm, very calm. But you know he’s paddling like crazy underneath.” (See stories from his visit here and here.)
Marinelli - who appeared nervous during his Pinellas interview, at one point knocking over a glass of water - did not make the cut. Pinellas board members were impressed with his extensive resume, but said he didn't have the kind of experience they were looking for. One problem was that Marinelli had no hands-on experience with desegregation plans.
- Thomas Tobin