'Pinellas would literally be honored to have him'
Yesterday's story about John Stewart, the man who appears to be on a behind-the-scenes fast track to interim superintendent in Pinellas, included glowing quotes from several people, including former Pinellas school board member Mary Russell. We asked Russell to tell us about her support for Stewart, including why she thinks Stewart has backing from people who don't appear to be in the same political circles, like her, Pinellas ed foundation president Terry Boehm and Board of Governors chancellor (and former lieutenant governor under Jeb Bush) Frank Brogan. (My exact question there: "Could it be that he's that good and competent? And competence trumps other things, especially in a time like this?") Here is her response in full:
I think you nailed it! He is "just that good" and he's far more than competent.
We need him. Pinellas would literally be honored to have him. He doesn't need the job. Doesn't need the money and I'm sure he's got other things he'd rather be doing. I believe it's a sense of duty that would bring him here, not salary or perks or greed. He knows the job needs to be done, and if he's willing to do it there's no reason to make him jump through a bunch of hoops in some circus sideshow. The district has done two dog/pony shows in five years. It got us nowhere. We don't need all of that hoopla. We need someone to come in and hit the ground running-at the speed of light. No huge upheavals or reorganizations, just systematic reform.
His reputation can't be tarnished by the process that brings him here. He's got a tremendous record of success that is unquestionable. People may balk, doubt, question...and good for them. I don't blame them and who could trust the system to do the right thing at this point? John's performance will no doubt quell those fears. If I was on the board, I'd be willing to take the hit on this "process" thing even if it cost me an election! I'd just ask people to wait and see. It's the right guy at the right time and there should be no hesitation. Any board member who hesitates has lost sight of their essential duty: to do the right thing for the children. Pinellas students can not wait a minute longer for decisive, competent leadership.
Yes, it would seem John and I are on different "sides" ...on a bunch of things. But, we have a few things in common: strong values, work ethic and integrity. Because of that, I believe strongly in fairness, accountability and honesty. So does John. He and I take two different paths to get to the same place. So what?
I'd like to think that after working closely together we have respect for one another and since neither of us are party loyalists or beholden to special interests, we trust that each other will move forward with only one thing as our motivation: to rally all the district's resources in the manner most likely to provide the most benefit to the students.
A lot of people say they put kids first. I used to hear it all the time, "You don't think I'm in it for the kids?!" I used to be polite and hold my tongue, but the truth is a lot of people lose sight of the kids. Stupid grown up stuff gets in the way: money, politics, religion, friendships, self-importance, etc. At any given time, people can be driven by any of those things. It's rare that you find an executive, even in the education field, who's motivation isn't affected by all of those things.
John understands his duty is to the children in the school system who are counting on him. All of the rest is just peripheral. But, boy is he good at making the peripheral stuff work.
I could go on all day about examples, but I can sum up what makes him so good in a couple of words: organization and follow-through. Everything from a single parent's complaint to changing an entire way of work: John can make it work because he's going to follow up and hold people accountable for their part. He's going to organize things in a manner that will allow for accountability.
As far as leadership goes, he's the kind of guy you don't want to let down. He's always prepared. He makes hard stuff look easy, he's cool under pressure and he is fair. I can think of a few (probably previous) administrators that won't be looking forward to his return, but not because he will unilaterally fire someone arbitrarily, but because he will hold people accountable to do their jobs. There won't be any foot dragging and grumbling or project sabotage because someone just doesn't agree. There will be time to disagree, to question, to voice opinions during planning stages, but once a project is decided on everyone is all in, all on the same page, all moving forward. He gets things done. In a huge system like Pinellas, people simply have to work together. There can't be a bunch of in-fighting and political posturing. Talent and skill have to be the determining factor in who rises to the top of the organization. That's the only way everyone else can have faith in the system. If the leadership isn't modeling good leadership by example, expectations crumble.
John Stewart will have high expectations for staff members. And he will hold them accountable. But he won't be asking anyone to do anything he can't or won't do. He's gonna set the bar pretty high...and you'll be surprised, people will just DO. They will rise to the challenge, and just do. Sometimes even unknowingly.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
Like I said, I could go on and on...he's a consummate professional in every great sense of the word.