TAMPA — The five finalists to become Florida's next education commissioner pitched themselves to the State Board of Education on Monday during a five-hour meeting at the Tampa Airport Marriott.
Board members, who extended the application period in May amid disappointment with the first round of applicants, said they were pleased with the quality of the final slate of candidates.
A decision on who would replace outgoing Commissioner Eric J. Smith could come as early as today. Smith resigned under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott.
"I am very pleased," board member John Padget of Key West said of the finalists. "There were one or two that were excellent."
Vice chairman Roberto Martinez of Coral Gables said he expected Scott will have some influence over the final decision. That is no different, he added, than the sway Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist had in the naming of past appointed commissioners.
The finalists are:
• Loretta Costin, Florida chancellor of career and adult education.
• Thomas P. Jandris, dean, Concordia University Chicago.
• Gerard Robinson, Virginia secretary of education.
• Bret Schundler, former New Jersey education commissioner.
• Stacia Smith, superintendent of the Clark County, Ohio, Educational Service Center.
Each candidate had about one hour Monday to answer questions and make the case for why he or she would make the best commissioner for Florida. Board members were keen to hear what the hopefuls would do immediately upon taking the reins, knowing that the state has several education projects under way — including implementing new teacher evaluations, Race to the Top and a national core curriculum in English and math.
They also asked pointed questions about the candidates' thoughts regarding college readiness, the use of tests and areas where Florida might improve its education offerings.
Former Florida Commissioner John Winn is serving as interim commissioner. One of the first things the new person will have to do is appoint a new chancellor for K-12 education.
That post is currently being held on an interim basis by Mike Grego, former superintendent of Osceola County schools.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.