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For Pinellas School Board, it's decision day on superintendent Janssen's job

Another name surfaced Monday as a possible interim superintendent in Pinellas as the tenure of superintendent Julie Janssen appeared to be rapidly coming to an end.

John Stewart, 67, a former Polk County superintendent and No. 2 under former Pinellas superintendent Howard Hinesley, said he was interested in the job, making him the second person whose name has been seriously floated as a candidate.

Like Linda Benware, another former Pinellas schools administrator, Stewart is receiving verbal endorsements from prominent political and educational leaders. "He's somebody definitely worthy of our consideration," said school board chairwoman Carol Cook. "He brings a lot to the table."

"He's solid. Low-key. Sincere. Great communicator," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

The school board meets today to decide Janssen's fate.

A majority of members appears inclined to let her go. But it remains to be seen whether they'll terminate her contract or accept a settlement offer that includes her resignation.

On Monday — the first day of school — Janssen visited several schools in what may have been her farewell tour.

At the entrance to Dunedin High, she greeted students on the opening day of the school's 50th anniversary, wearing a red Dunedin High polo shirt and waving a hand-written sign, "Go Dunedin!"

She deflected reporters' questions about her own future.

"My entire career has been focused on the kids," she said. "Today is focused on the kids."

"I intend to put that one on the back burner until probably later tonight," she added. "When I get home, I'll think about it. And pray about it. And go forward from there."

Janssen, who rose from math teacher to principal at Countryside and St. Petersburg high schools before overseeing the 101,000-student district, appeared poised for a fight last week. Her attorney e-mailed a letter to the School Board's attorney requesting a year's salary — $200,000 — and benefits in exchange for resigning Sept. 2, two years before her contract expires. Some board members expressed outrage at the request.

Peggy O'Shea, a board member who has been supportive of Janssen, said she felt switching superintendents at the start of the school year was a bad idea — and bad timing.

"We need to be concentrating on kids and talking about kids," said O'Shea, who was also at Dunedin High on Monday morning. "And no one is talking about the kids."

Meanwhile, Lakewood High principal Bob Vicari said he was on a high after welcoming 1,400 kids to his St. Petersburg campus for the first day, a process that for most school-level employees feels pretty removed from uncertainty over district leadership. "It's just a shame," he said, "but we stay out of the fray. We do what we do. We greet the kids … The energy is here."

Stewart served as Polk superintendent for 13 years. He was a deputy commissioner under former state Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher. In 2000, he left Tallahassee to become deputy superintendent under Hinesley, then resigned in 2003 to take a top administrative post at the Florida High School Athletic Association. He retired from there, as executive director, in 2009.

"I can't think of a better leader to come into the district at this time," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who briefly worked with Stewart when she was on the School Board in 2000. "He has a calming way about him."

Stewart, of Winter Haven, said he had fond memories of his stint in Pinellas and called it "an excellent place to be."

Asked when he could start, Stewart said that would be speculative until there's direction from the School Board. But, he added, "I'm available when needed."

Stewart said, in all likelihood, he wouldn't be interested in the job permanently. But he did not rule it out. "What I learned a long time ago is you never say, 'No, never,' " he said. "You let the Lord direct you as things progress."

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Hiccups at schools in St. Petersburg

As Pinellas students returned to school Monday, a few schools dealt with some first-day issues:

LAKEWOOD HIGH

Bob Vicari, principal at 1,400-student Lakewood High School, called the day a success.

"This was the best year in 15, absolutely," he said. "Off to a good start. Feeling good."

He said the school had one unexpected change of plan after finding that it took longer than expected to process students using a new cafeteria palm-scanning device.

Vicari said the original plan was to enter all the students' information into the scanner system Monday.

Instead, students' will buy their lunches the old way for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, students will go to the cafeteria during their English classes to register themselves in the palm-scanning system.

LAKEWOOD

ELEMENTARY

At Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg, principal Cynthia Kidd said a new, earlier start time confused some parents. Classes there moved an hour earlier to 7:35 a.m. this year and about 20 to 30 parents showed up late with their children, many saying they didn't know of the change.

Kidd said the school tried to notify as many parents as possible, putting the start times on their school sign, announcing it in automated phone calls home and more. But there's no sure way to get everyone when families move, phone numbers change and parents fail to register their kids on time.

About 470 students showed up on Monday, Kidd said, about 150 students short of projections.

Rebecca Catalanello,

Times staff writer

For Pinellas School Board, it's decision day on superintendent Janssen's job 08/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 1:22am]
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