Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Education

It seems the search for leadership in Pinellas schools has gone on forever

So Pinellas County's search for the perfect school superintendent continues. And now that the quest has passed 3,000 days, perhaps the interview process will start to heat up.

Yes, you should probably lump the 2012 hiring of a superintendent in with the candidate searches of '08 and '04 because the county has yet to get it right.

And that makes this a critical time for students in Pinellas, and a watershed decision for the seven members of the School Board.

Because none of us wants to continue on a meandering path to nowhere, and that's what the last decade has felt like around here.

Pinellas has not only lost ground but also prestige when compared to other large school districts in the state.

Perhaps more troubling is that some of the problems three prospective candidates were asked about on Wednesday were the same issues asked of applicants in 2004.

That is a bad, bad sign for School Board members. It suggests that little has been accomplished while time and educations have been wasted in recent years.

So is that the fault of the current School Board?

Not entirely. Three current board members were not around for the hiring in '08, let alone '04. Two other members were present for only the '08 process.

Even so, individual blame is not the issue. Collective responsibility is.

Now, statistics do say Pinellas students are achieving at a higher level today than they were in 2004, but their progression lags far behind similar-sized districts.

The achievement gap between white and African-American students remains large. FCAT scores are not as high as in other metro areas. Graduation rates are painful.

And these were exactly the types of things that were supposed to be addressed in 2004, when Howard Hinesley retired after 13 years as the superintendent.

A national search for a replacement was launched, and a new leader was supposed to guide Pinellas into a new era of prosperity.

Instead, one superintendent bolted for another job, a second was fired and the current interim superintendent is ready to retire. Not since the mid 1960s has Pinellas seen so much upheaval in the top office of the county's largest employer.

What's gone wrong?

Simply put, the board ignored warning signs the last two times it went through this process.

Clayton Wilcox was a dynamic candidate in 2004, but it was not difficult to predict he would arrive with one foot already pointed toward the next job. Julie Janssen was popular in the district in 2008, but had never proved herself in a job of this size.

Pinellas cannot afford similar miscalculations in 2012.

That means board members should be wary of Colorado administrator Christian Cutter, who lacks both experience and familiarity with Florida.

And that means today's one-on-one interviews are critical for Connie Jones, who needs to explain why she was passed over in Lee County despite her long service in that district, and Mike Grego, who has to explain why things turned sour in his first superintendent's position in Osceola County.

Gut reaction:

If it's not Grego, the search will probably be reopened.

Three thousand days later, there's no need to rush.

Comments
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