Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

Kurt Browning sworn in as Pasco school superintendent

LAND O'LAKES — Kurt Browning leapt from his seat Tuesday as clerk of courts Paula O'Neil called him forward to take the oath of office as Pasco County's new school superintendent.

"Let's do it!" he said, reflecting his exuberance to begin the job he officially won two weeks ago, but for which he waged his major battle back in August.

Browning, 54, bested two-term incumbent Heather Fiorentino in a three-way Republican primary, taking more than 65 percent of the vote. The former Florida secretary of state and longtime Pasco elections supervisor spent the following weeks studying school district leadership and crafting his plans for running the state's 11th-largest school system.

After guiding the board through the selection of Cynthia Armstrong as chair and Alison Crumbley as vice chair, Browning was given the opportunity to speak — his first under the "superintendent's report" on a meeting agenda.

"I don't have anything to say," he said, smiling. "That's not true. A man and a microphone."

He expressed his gratitude at being chosen to serve in his new post, leading "the best school district in Florida."

"It's an awful lot of work, but I'm certainly looking forward to it," Browning said. "I want to be able to go into any of our schools, any of our district offices, and ask, What is the driving force that pushes us? The answer is, Is it best for the kids? Everything we do in this district needs to be based on the question, Is it best for the kids?"

For his first order of business, Browning asked the School Board to redefine three top administrative jobs as part of his reorganization effort.

Browning proposed two assistant superintendent positions — one for academics and one for administration — to replace the five direct reports to Fiorentino. He also recommended compressing all staff and leadership training and development into one office with one director.

The board quickly approved the requests without comment.

Browning said he would not immediately appoint anyone to the newly created jobs. He expected to have some announcements in time for the Dec. 4 board meeting.

But he did take the time to make one decision: He ousted Aimee Boltze as staff development director, demoting her to a supervisor position in the human resources department.

Boltze, the district's 2011-12 department director of the year, was one of a handful of vocal supporters of Fiorentino's re-election bid within the administrative ranks. She made a couple of speeches on Fiorentino's behalf during the campaign.

Browning denied that her reassignment had anything to do with politics.

"The process has been driven by function, and not personalities or personnel," he said.

He noted that Boltze played a key role in creating and implementing the district's new teacher evaluation system, and said he wanted to move the evaluations into the HR department.

"She is very good at what she does," Browning said. "I want to give her the opportunity to focus on teacher evaluations and new teacher support."

Boltze, who also received high marks from the state for her department's protocols, said she was proud of the work she had done for the district, and that she would "give the district 150 percent" in a new role.

"I supported the superintendent because of the support that I received," she said. "My focus is on Pasco County. I'm here today for the kids in Pasco. . . . I am looking forward to the transition."

During his comments, Browning acknowledged the stress of recent months within the district, as well as "unsettled business" that remains ahead.

"But we have work to be done," he said, directing his comments specifically to the district office staff. "I know you are ready, willing and able to do what is best for our kids."

Board members Joanne Hurley and Alison Crumbley also were sworn in Tuesday to new four-year terms. Crumbley won her seat without opposition, while Hurley won 68 percent of the vote in her August primary election.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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