Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Browning brings familiar faces back to Pasco school district

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning continued to put his stamp on the school district administration Tuesday, announcing three top appointments and revealing several other changes he plans to make.

In his first moves to create his leadership team, Browning recommended Ray Gadd and Amelia Van Name Larson to serve as his two assistant superintendents: Gadd over administration and operations, and Van Name Larson over student achievement.

Gadd was assistant superintendent over support services until June 2009, when former superintendent Heather Fiorentino did not renew his contract. Van Name Larson was a curriculum supervisor until June 2012, when she resigned rather than accept a reassignment to an elementary assistant principal post.

Browning also named Crews Lake Middle School principal Chris Christoff to serve as his director of professional development.

He deemed all three appointments, which go to the School Board on Tuesday for approval, as strong fits for the district's direction toward empowering employees and school-based teams.

Gadd is "probably one of the most well respected administrators this district has ever had," Browning said. "He knows the district, and he knows the business of the district."

Bringing him in will all but eliminate the learning curve, Browning said, making it easier to get to work in a term that lasts only 1,460 days. Gadd was "more than the right choice."

He called Van Name Larson one of the most passionate and knowledgeable educators he has met.

"She is an intelligent, articulate woman who has the interest of kids' education as the center of her being," Browning said. "I don't have to convince her where we need to go. She knows where we need to go."

And Christoff, he said, has a strong record of developing leaders and building teams, turning his school into a top example of how a school should be run. "He is an incredibly talented young man," Browning said.

All three appointees expressed excitement at joining Browning's team.

Gadd, who left a job at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services that paid about $100,000 more to return to the district, said he had a soft spot for the district in his home county, and he wanted to help with the transition to new leadership. He praised the department directors who will report to him, calling them top-notch professionals and saying he can't wait to get back to work with them.

"I have just an incredible amount of respect for the directors and supervisors," he said. "I couldn't be more ecstatic."

Van Name Larson, who consulted nationally on education issues after leaving the district, said she was at first leery of Browning's overtures to have her come back to the district. As they talked about goals, though, she said she became convinced of Browning's desire to reorganize so the district to better serve schools and students.

"Due to his leadership and vision, I am committed to doing this," she said.

Christoff said the idea of leaving Crews Lake, which he opened five years ago, was bittersweet. But he added that he has a passion for professional development, and he wants to help the district grow in the same way he has worked within schools.

"When you get asked by a man like Kurt, I don't think you say no," he said. "I'm happy to be part of the team."

Browning acknowledged that he will have several assistant superintendents on staff after Gadd and Van Name Larson come on board. But he said he intended to quickly use their expertise to help make the next leadership transition, which will include creating four K-12 executive director positions overseeing school feeder patterns in regions — east, central, southwest and northwest. They will report to Van Name Larson.

The idea comes from a recent report from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, and it is what appears to work in several of Florida's high-performing districts, Browning said.

"We aren't just concerned with a child pre-K through fifth grade, and then just hand them off to someone else," Browning said.

Browning also said that the chief financial officer and two executive directors — one for administration and one for support services — will report to Gadd.

None of the executive director jobs have been offered yet.

Browning has asked the School Board to unfreeze the director of communications and the director of human resources jobs, so he can fill those. And he plans to review departments for consolidation, refocusing, or possibly even elimination.

Board members said they supported Browning's effort.

"He's clearly listened to other districts who are doing things right for kids," board member Joanne Hurley said. "This is a well thought-out plan."

Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong did not foresee the board demanding any changes.

"It is his job to administer the district," she said. "I am sure he is making decisions that he feels will advance the student achievement in the county. That is his role to do that."

Gadd and Van Name Larson would start Wednesday if approved. Christoff would move to the district office after winter break.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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