BROOKSVILLE — It's down to five.
Constance Jones, one of six finalists vying to become superintendent of the Hernando County school district, withdrew her name Thursday in a brief email.
"Please convey to the members of the School Board my sincere appreciation for selecting me as one of the finalists for the position of Superintendent for the Hernando County Public Schools, but I am respectfully withdrawing my application," Jones wrote.
She didn't give a reason.
"We were stunned," said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association and a member of the superintendent advisory committee.
Jones, 62, is currently an administrator on assignment in Lee County and was previously the district's chief academic officer.
She's no stranger to being a finalist for superintendent positions.
She was most recently a finalist for the superintendent's job in Manatee County. She also has been a finalist in Lee, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties.
"She was a very strong candidate," Vitalo said.
Among the qualities he liked most: her ability to duplicate programs and address any troubling issues that might pop up.
He called her a "firefighter."
"If you've got a situation or problem, she's there and it gets fixed," Vitalo said. "She's able to handle those things."
In more than two decades as a public school administrator in Lee County, Jones has built a reputation as a skilled communicator and a data-driven educator.
Previous School Board members said she excels at everything she does.
Over the nine years Jones served as Lee's chief academic officer, the 85,000-student district saw improvements in its dropout and graduation rates and lifted its district grade from a B to three straight A's in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The district also had one of the smallest achievement gaps between lower- and upper-income students among the nation's largest school districts, according to a Brookings Institution study.
Jones did not return phone calls from the Times on Friday. In the meantime, speculation abounded as to why she withdrew her name.
One possible reason: She's applying for another superintendent job.
Polk County is looking for someone to lead its district of roughly 97,000 students.
The salary range there is from $210,000 to $260,000.
Hernando's salary falls between $100,000 and $130,000.
Jones' current salary in Lee County is $123,666.
St. Lucie County, a district of more than 40,000 students, is also in the beginning stages of a search for a new superintendent.
The five remaining candidates in Hernando, including the district's two assistant superintendents, are scheduled to be interviewed March 13 and 14 at the district's main office in Brooksville.
The new superintendent is slated to start July 1.
Information from Times files was used in this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.