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Longtime official put forward for Pinellas school superintendent

ST. PETERSBURG — Lew Williams, a high-ranking Pinellas school official for nearly two decades, should be considered as an interim replacement for outgoing superintendent Clayton Wilcox, a small group of supporters said Monday.

Williams, 65, retired in 2005 and ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 2006. Wilcox said Thursday he was resigning and asked the board to consider releasing him from his contract by June 1.

"Lew Williams is the logical choice when you're looking at someone with the respect level he has and the experience level he has," said Ray Tampa, a St. Petersburg businessman and a former principal for the district who also ran for School Board in 2006.

"I've spoken with Mr. Williams and he has agreed if he is offered the position he'd be willing to serve," said Tampa, who was flanked at a news conference by eight people.

The group included three retired teachers — Lottie Bellamy, Cora Royal and Maggie Brown — and two members of the task force that advised the School Board on the new student assignment plan, Sami Leigh Scott and Adrien Helm.

Reached at his home later Monday, Williams said he was not lobbying to take Wilcox's place, but would serve if asked.

"If they saw some merit in me being appointed, it would be of interest," he said.

Williams was a principal at several schools from 1973 to 1987, when he rose to the district-level post of director of operations.

From 1991 to 1995, he was an associate superintendent for pupil assignment, helping draw the zones around schools and taking flak when parents complained about the boundaries. The district is returning to a similar system this year after a five-year respite when the choice plan was in effect.

From 1995 to 2005, Williams was an area superintendent. He retired after 34 years with the Pinellas school system.

Wilcox's replacement, whether interim or permanent, will be called on almost immediately to cut the district's budget by an estimated $40-million. But Williams said the task was doable.

He said he recalled five or six years, mostly in the 1990s, when the budget scenario was similarly dire.

"It's almost kind of, been there and done that," he said. "We've been there and we came through it. It took a lot of collaboration with the (teachers) union, the community and our district people."

The School Board will meet in a workshop Friday to begin discussing how to replace Wilcox, who is taking a job in New York with Scholastic Corp., the children's book publishing giant.

His two deputies, Julie Janssen and Harry Brown, have surfaced as obvious candidates to serve as interim or permanent replacements. Leon Hobbs, an associate superintendent in Pinellas who has been a superintendent for smaller districts in Florida and Alabama, also has expressed interest in the job.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8923.

Longtime official put forward for Pinellas school superintendent 04/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 12:00pm]
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