BROOKSVILLE — The search for the district's chief executive is now in the School Board's hands.
A search committee of district employees, union officials and community members on Wednesday trimmed the list of superintendent hopefuls from 15 to nine.
Among the candidates are interim superintendent Sonya Jackson and Ken Pritz, a former executive director of school services for the Hernando district and now principal at Hernando High.
Jackson and Pritz, committee members agreed, have the qualities that district employees and the public said in surveys are important, including high-level executive and administrative experience in a sizable Florida district.
Pritz and Jackson are straightforward leaders, said Colin Davies, president of the Hernando United School Workers, the union that represents the district's non-instructional employees.
"The dealings I've had with both of them have always been up front, no games, and I appreciate that," Davies said.
Lori Drenth, the district's food and nutritional services director, has unique experience on the committee — she has worked for Pritz and now works for Jackson. Drenth reported to Pritz when he served as executive director of facility and support operations from 2005 to 2008.
"That's a huge chunk of the budget and often gets overlooked," Drenth said. "He has worked on both sides of the equation."
She pointed out later that Jackson, a former director of school services who has served as interim superintendent since September, lacks the facilities and operations experience. Still, Drenth said, Jackson is "an excellent candidate."
Interviewing both candidates would give the board some perspective on the field, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association and chairman of the search committee. That didn't happen during the superintendent search in 2007, when Pritz, Jackson and another district staffer did not get invitations to interview.
"The board needs to interview the internal candidates to measure against the outside candidates," Vitalo said. "I think that was one of the glaring weakness of the last process."
Two candidates drew near unanimous praise for their potential.
Gregory K. Adkins, chief human resources officer for Lee County schools in Fort Myers since 2002, has a combined seven years as a principal and assistant principal in the same district.
Executive and administrative experience in a Florida district with more than 100 schools and a budget of some $1.6 billion, according to Adkins' resume, prompted committee member Maricriss Dausch to put him at the top of her list.
"He knows exactly what we're up against but has been in a bigger district,'' said Dausch, a Brooksville business owner. "I think he would be our teacher rather than us teaching him, which is exactly what we need."
Another candidate's longevity and popularity in his community struck the committee as a good sign.
Bryan Blavatt recently retired after 12 years as superintendent for Boone County Schools, a district of 18,000 students in Kentucky. Committee members noted an editorial in the weekly Boone County Recorder that called Blavatt "a wizard at communications and organizational leadership" whose "plainspoken style and positive attitude are the heart of Boone County's success in recent years." He earned Kentucky's superintendent of the year award in 2007
Committee members also noted that Blavatt reportedly said he was most proud of the district's ability to win awards based on the community's satisfaction with its schools. "That really impressed me," Vitalo said.
The School Board is set to meet in a workshop Dec. 8 to decide which of the candidates — if not all — to call in for interviews in early January. A public reception with the candidates also is planned for that time.
The district has set a goal to have someone hired by February and in place by July 1.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.