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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

William Harner



William_harner_150Seven 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 William Harner.

Harner's resume makes one want to stop and take a breath. It has two parts: His first career as a military officer, and his second as an on-the-rise educator.

The West Point graduate spent 20 years in the Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and infantry battalion commander. He speaks with pride of his military service, and said the transition to education made perfect sense. He talked about participating in the Troops to Teachers program before Congress.

His ascent into education unfolded with military-like precision: a high school principal job, followed by four years as superintendent over Greenville, South Carolina's 63,000 students. (That's slightly smaller than Pasco County, for comparison.) Then Harner stepped back, taking another principal position and then a mid-level administrative post in a smaller Georgia school district. He says it was not a step down, but a chance to learn new skills while attending the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy. He made similar comments to the Gainesville, Ga., newspaper after taking the middle school principal job there. (See story here.)

But other papers offer a different view.

The weekly MetroBeat of Greenville questioned Harner's relationship with the board (see story here), which asked him to leave with more than a year left on his contract. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which took a look at Harner as he applied for the superintendent's job there, wrote that while Harner made some significant changes. "The fast pace of those reforms, along with a few controversial moves such as Harner's sale of some district-owned timber, which some school board members thought they should have been asked to approve, gradually began to frustrate some members of the community." (See story here.) He eventually reached this agreement with his board before leaving.

Since 2006, Harner has served as deputy to the CEO for Philadelphia schools. But he's actively been seeking a higher post. He came close with the Toledo, Ohio, school district. But after entering negotiations, the Toledo Blade reports, Harner rejected the job because the school board would not meet his demands, which included that the district pay tuition for his teenage daughter to attend a private school. To see more reports about Harner's brush with the Toledo job, including a profile, click here and here.

Still no word on whether Harner has won the interim superintendent's job for the 2,000-student Steamboat Springs school district. The local paper reports someone has been offered the job, but could not say who.

If we're exhausted writing about his resume, one can only imagine how 51-year-old Harner feels. (By the way, he also counts three master's degrees and a Ph.D. in educational leadership.) While impressive, one has to wonder if he has yet amassed the experience to lead a large school district like Miami-Dade, much less Florida's sprawling K-20 system. Certainly, he seems to have the ambition and energy.

- Letitia Stein and Jeff Solochek

Tomorrow: Earl Lennard

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:22am]


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