BROOKSVILLE — Now the real work begins.
A search committee on Wednesday night trimmed the list of candidates for Hernando County schools superintendent to 15.
The nine-member committee, meeting for the first time to narrow down a total of 29 applicants, started with the easy tasks by eliminating two applicants who didn't meet the minimum qualifications and one whose application arrived late.
Committee chairman Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, recommended that the group cut applicants who didn't have executive-level experience in a school district.
Vitalo said he was tired of Hernando being seen as a place for the relatively inexperienced to secure a notch on a resume.
"In the past, it always seemed like we're a stepping stone and training ground," Vitalo said. To be a contender, he said, "you need to be on a top tier in a district."
The committee agreed, paring down the pool of candidates, in the process eliminating a couple of names familiar to some in the region: Elaine Sullivan, former principal at Hernando High School, and Steve Knobl, current principal at Gulf High School in New Port Richey.
Hernando's current interim superintendent, Sonya Jackson, made the cut, as did Ken Pritz, a former executive director of school services for the Hernando district who is currently principal at Hernando High. Pritz applied in 2007 but didn't land an interview, despite the efforts of at least one School Board member at the time.
The committee, comprising union representatives, school district employees and community members who volunteered for the task, agreed to keep Art Stellar in the running until school officials confirmed that he had taken another job. Stellar, formerly superintendent of schools in Taunton, Mass., recently landed a superintendent post in Burke County, N.C., according to news reports.
School Board attorney Paul Carland confirmed that Thursday.
The deadline for applications was Oct. 30. The application of Edward P. Mara, superintendent of the Bristol Warren Regional School District in Rhode Island, arrived Monday. The committee agreed unanimously not to accept it.
The other 13 candidates are:
• S. Jayne Risen Morgenthal, current superintendent of the Elizabethtown Public School District in Kentucky.
• Wayne M. Talley, current assistant superintendent of Avery County Schools in Newland, N.C.
• John R. Phillips, a former executive director of school reform for Atlanta Public Schools.
• Arnold Spadafora, former superintendent of Schenectady City Schools in New York.
• Stephen A. Stohla, former superintendent for Brookfield Local Schools in Brookfield, Ohio.
• Bryan A. Blavatt, former superintendent of Boone County Schools in Kentucky.
• Gene W. Levenstien, current interim assistant superintendent for business for three school districts in Long Island, N.Y.
• I.V. Foster Jr., current superintendent for Prairie Hills School District 144 in Markham, Ill.
• Melindo A. Persi, former superintendent and interim superintendent for several New Jersey public schools.
• Gregory K. Adkins, current chief human resources officer and a former principal for the Lee County school district in Fort Myers.
• Aaron K. Mackey, former superintendent for Princeton City School District in Ohio.
• William Thomas Fritz, current human resources director for Shoreline School District in Washington, and a former middle school principal.
• Rose Terri McSweeney, current deputy superintendent of Shoreham Wading River Central School District in New York.
The committee is slated to meet again Nov. 18 to come up with a list of five to seven finalists to send to the School Board.
The members each agreed to bring a top 10 list to the meeting and select the final list based largely on criteria emphasized in responses to a survey of the public and district employees on important qualities for a successful candidate: superintendent experience, proven communication skills and a firm grasp on educational technology.
The committee won't have much choice when it comes to another priority listed in the survey: Only one of the candidates has Florida experience, and not as a superintendent.
Still, committee member Burt Harres said the committee has some quality contenders to consider.
"I think it's a very good candidate field, and I think the committee seems to be gelling," said Harres, vice president of instruction and provost of Pasco-Hernando Community College's West Campus.
The committee agreed to recommend that the School Board conduct at least some level of background checks on the field of finalists. In prior searches, checks were done only on the successful candidate.
That doesn't make sense, said committee member Walter Dry, a labor consultant from Spring Hill who served on the last search committee in 2007.
"Why wait until you almost have a contractual situation and all of a sudden you find out that person has something in their background that may not make them suitable for the position?" Dry asked.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.