Pinellas County's national search for a new school superintendent attracted 36 candidates from 16 states.
But the School Board on Monday made it a Florida-only affair, selecting five finalists from large districts to be part of an intensive interview process next month.
The list includes interim Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen, who quickly emerged as a top pick along with Alberto M. Carvalho, an associate superintendent from Miami-Dade schools.
The others on the list:
• Nicholas M. Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools, based in Orlando.
• Barbara M. Jenkins, chief of staff with Orange County schools.
• And Sherrie Nickell, an associate superintendent for Polk County schools, who serves as that district's chief academic officer.
The board will interview the finalists Aug. 27 and 28 — first in public sessions lasting up to two hours each, then in private, 45-minute conversations with each board member.
The board will narrow the field to two or three Sept. 2 and invite the remaining candidates for a second interview Sept. 8. The latter date also will include meetings with the public.
A final decision is expected some time in September.
The board is working to replace former superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who left in June to work for Scholastic Inc.
"I can guarantee you that you're going to have a hard time making a decision," search consultant Wayne Blanton told the board. "The five of these candidates can run your school system."
The field included three candidates from Massachusetts; three from New Jersey; two each from New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan; and a smattering from assorted other states. But most were either from small districts or did not have experience that wowed the board.
Others were nixed by Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, who offered frank assessments based on interviews and background checks. He said one candidate with military experience was "egotistical and bombastic." Another was too consumed with a personal problem. A third held impressive credentials leading state education departments but had not been in a job more than three years.
The search also was notable for a number of colorful candidates: the former principal who was fired after trying to rid "negative" energy from her school through a Santeria ceremony, the superintendent once arrested for shoplifting at a Wal-Mart and the superintendent who left her district during a federal criminal investigation.
Board members said they were pleased with the finalists.
Blanton described Carvalho as a smart, aggressive and well-spoken top administrator who was adept at finding money and had skillfully navigated Miami's political waters.
If there's a weakness, he said, it's that Carvalho is not as good in the area of curriculum.
In his application, Carvalho said he has been an educator for 18 years — first as a science teacher and now as a top leader of the nation's fourth-largest school system. He has taken on numerous tasks in Miami, from redesigning secondary schools to representing the district in Tallahassee.
Blanton said of Gledich: "This man knows the Orange County school system from top to bottom."
He has been with the district for 31 years, starting as a teacher and rising to chief operations officer. In that capacity, he oversees numerous district departments, including security, food service, transportation and information and technology.
Blanton said he is tenacious and detailed and recently quelled a controversy over start times. He said his weakness is that he knows little of the landscape in Tallahassee.
Jenkins, the other Orange County administrator in the field, is seen as a rising star in that district, Blanton said.
He said superintendent Ron Blocker has trusted her with several tough assignments. He said she is good with people, has a good sense of humor and is popular with the School Board.
As chief of staff, she is responsible for helping with the daily operations of the district. She recently chaired meetings to cut $70-million from the budget.
Blanton said he received good reports on Nickell, the Polk administrator. He said she was sharp, professional, well-spoken and could make tough decisions.
She has been chief academic officer in Polk, the state's eighth-largest school district, since 2005. She takes credit in her application for raising the districtwide grade from a C to a B.
"They think a lot of her in Polk County," said Blanton, who said her weakness was overall knowledge of Florida school finance.
Janssen is well known in Pinellas, having worked with the district for more than 30 years.
In her application, she says she oversaw creating the new "close-to-home" student assignment plan and led this year's effort to trim $28-million from the district's budget.
She also pointed to the creation of a "success zone" offering targeted help to 20 struggling elementary schools.
Her application included letters of reference from Jade Moore, executive director of the teachers union, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.