A weekend interview with ...
... Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. Blanton is helping the Pinellas and Manatee school boards conduct their superintendent searches. He spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the searches, the quality of the candidates and the difficulty of the superintendent's job in Florida.
Tell me a little bit about how you see the Pinellas search going now that all of the candidates have applied.
Well as you know we have 36 applicants. ... And I would say the top five or the top seven are going to be very, very strong candidates. If you look at those resumes and you start doing some background checks, you've got a very high quality group of candidates.
Can you tell me which ones you like the best?
Not yet. ... I prefer to work with the board to get to our top five. There are some excellent candidates, and I don't want to put the board in a position of not having a full discussion on all of them before we get to our top five.
If you can't talk about the actual candidates, what about just generally speaking the quality of the candidates that are coming in, knowing that so many superintendents are leaving.
Well, the quality coming in is excellent. You've got a number of deputies from throughout Florida who are ready to become superintendents. You've got some out-of-state candidates who are superintendents or are ready to be superintendents. So I've been extremely pleased with the quality. It's a very high quality pool of candidates.
Is there something special you think Pinellas needs to be looking for?
I think Pinellas, obviously, every district is unique in its own concerns. But you need someone that the board can work well with. You need someone that the community can accept. You need someone that can get out into the general public arena and that can work well with them. And you need someone that can work well with your teachers and parents. So the board will lean toward what they think is best for their community when they start talking to the top five candidates.
I saw some of the candidates were more toward what we'll call the end of their career than toward the beginning of their career. Do you think the school district needs somebody who is looking for that last job before retirement?
I always recommend when I'm doing a search, to any board, that they be looking for a superintendent that can stay with them at least eight or 10 years. You can't have a discussion about age. That's discrimination, as you well know. But you can have discussions about the length of time you want someone to stay there. And I think the Pinellas board, in having the previous superintendent stay there less than three years, I think they need stability and they need somebody there at least eight to 10 years.
One of the other issues has always been insider vs. outsider. Somebody who knows it, loves it, wants to be there vs. someone who for instance is looking for that first superintendent's job and would take it where it comes. I think of Mr. Carvalho from Miami, for instance. I have seen his name in several searches, so I know he's been looking around. Is there something to commend one over the other?
I don't think so. I think it really depends on the capability of the person. And you also look at the fact that anyone that comes from within Florida, from a big district, is going to be ready to step in and go. It's just a matter of learning a little more about the community. But the education funding, the Sunshine Law, public records, all of that they're already going to be familiar with it. I've not seen where inside vs. outside makes that big a difference.
Other school districts are looking for superintendents as well. I think of Manatee, which is right next to Pinellas.
Manatee is the only one, right now. Right.
Is that going to be a problem for either district? Are they going to be competing for the same group.
No. Not at all. ... The time lines don't overlap. Because all of the candidates are in for Pinellas, and Pinellas will be doing their interviews ... the last two weeks of August. The candidate cutoff for Manatee isn't even until Sept. 8. So Pinellas will probably have made their decision before all of the candidates are in, in Manatee. So, no, I don't think there is going to be competition there between the districts at all. ...
It wasn't too long ago that we've been writing about 15 or 16 superintendents leaving throughout Florida.
There are 15 elected superintendents not running again. And then when Manatee completes its search, there will be five appointed superintendents that will have been selected within the past 12 months. So when you look at that totally, you will have had a turnover ... of 20 new school superintendents in Florida.
What does that tell us about the superintendent's job in Florida right now?
I think it tells us it's one of the toughest jobs there is, and I think it tells us it's only going to get tougher over the next few years. And it's going to take a special person to be a school superintendent in Florida over the next five years.
So how does a board - the Pinellas board, the Manatee board - make sure they're getting the right person?
Well, they're going to meet with them privately. They're going to interview them. They're going to have the opportunity to talk to them. They're going to have the chance to do background checks. Anything they want to do. And I think when you get to the top five, any one of them can run the school system. What happens is, you have to find the best fit you can find for the community and the system as a whole.
It seems like that would be a really hard job to do.
Well, we found out that Superman and Superwoman are not currently available. So you try to meet as many criteria that the community needs met as possible.
I guess people had thought they had found that in Dr. Wilcox, and he turned out to be pretty much a lightning rod and then he left. Maybe there's a gun-shyness.
I don't think so. I think the quality of candidates is excellent. I think there are people willing to get in there. I'd advise the board - not just Pinellas but any board out there - to put a contract out there that may have incentives for staying there longer.
And, again, you're not going to tell us who you're recommending?
Not until Monday.