FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Nearly 1,300 miles north of Florida on Saturday, the talk at noon in this suburban town outside Boston was all about Hernando County.
And the candidate vying to lead the Framingham Public Schools was none other than Wayne Alexander, current superintendent of the Hernando schools. The district expects to narrow the field of four semifinalists for the job on Tuesday.
For an hour, Alexander told the Framingham board members all about his experiences bringing rapid change to a mid-size Florida school system, and why he was now ready to move back to New England, where he grew up.
"It brings me back home," Alexander said. "I'm from Massachusetts, I know Massachusetts. Being home is my No. 1 priority."
Board Chairman Philip Dinsky kicked off the questioning by asking Alexander why he wanted the job.
Alexander said his desire to leave Hernando after less than two years was motivated in large part by family concerns. But during the interview he made it clear that he wants to run the Framingham schools.
"I'm excited about the resources and the money you spend on kids here," Alexander said.
Less than a month ago, he told the Hernando board that he really wanted to remain in his current job and would do everything in his power to stay.
"My wife and I want to raise our children in Hernando County," he wrote in a letter obtained by the Times. "I am very proud of our schools and community. It is a great place to raise kids."
He said he needed to go through the motions of applying for work in New England because of a visitation dispute involving his new wife's children there. But if he got a job offer, he wrote, he would try to convince the judge that nothing could match the post he has in Florida.
The Framingham board members didn't ask about that letter, but Alexander acknowledged that his current situation is complicated.
"When the superintendent puts their name in for a new job, the community loses trust in you," he said. "There's a little more understanding in this case, because this is driven by family."
But in contrast to the tone of his Hernando County letter, he expressed no reluctance during the interview about relocating back to New England. On the contrary, he made a strong case for himself and the job he has done since coming to Florida in 2007.
"In a year and a half, I've cut $15-million from a $160-million budget," Alexander said. "I made a B district an A district."
Among the other accomplishments he listed were raising teacher salaries, founding four career academies, deploying 11,700 new computers in four weeks and shifting around a third of principals and many other administrators during a top-to-bottom restructuring.
Alexander said the latter move had been "90 percent successful," but he admitted it earned him few friends in Hernando.
"If you Google me, you'll see a lot of people didn't like that," he said.
Asked to identify an example of failure, Alexander didn't name any specific policy decisions.
"But a general mistake is, I have wanted too much too fast," he said. "One of the things I want to ask you is, will I have the luxury to learn for a year?"
Board member Michael Bower asked for examples of how he worked with community leaders in Hernando.
Alexander described himself as a strong communicator who doesn't mince words.
"From day one, I have been open and straightforward," he said.
Times correspondent Kristi Ceccarossi contributed to this report from Framingham. Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 584-5537.