LARGO — The Pinellas County school system has found a new leader in its high-profile effort to transform its most struggling schools.
The School Board on Tuesday approved the appointment of Tzeporaw Sahadeo as director of the district's "Transformation Zone," replacing Antonio Burt, who announced his resignation last month.
Sahadeo, 40, came to Pinellas last year to lead Sandy Lane Elementary, a Clearwater school in the Transformation Zone, a group of eight elementary schools with track records of low performance. Before that, she worked for three years as an educational consultant and staff developer for Marzano Center, Learning Sciences International.
In that job, Sahadeo managed a group of consultants to work with about 100 schools in the Detroit area, 12 of which were turnaround schools, according to Pinellas deputy superintendent Bill Corbett. She also helped develop a strategy called the "rigor walk," a structured observation used in Transformation Zone schools.
Pinellas chose Learning Sciences International to support the Marzano teacher evaluation model that is being used as part of the state's school turnaround process.
"We thought this was the perfect combination of someone who had a year under her belt with us," Corbett said. "But what we're really interested in is the external work she did in Detroit."
From 2011 to 2013, Sahadeo was the manager and director of HOPE Educational Opportunities in Tampa before she closed the company in 2014. She also was a principal for Florida Virtual Schools in Orlando for two years and spent 11 years as a classroom teacher and principal in Hillsborough County public schools.
In her first year as principal of Sandy Lane, at least 12 of the school's 44 teachers have been transferred out or have asked to leave. And last month, the percentage of third graders who met state expectations on this year's English language arts exam dropped 1 point to 26 percent.
Corbett said he thinks the school will show more improvement when the state releases test scores for other grades and subjects soon.
"We think she's done a fantastic job" at Sandy Lane, he said. "We're thinking that there's a good chance that school is going to improve that letter grade."
Without discussion, board members unanimously approved Sahadeo's appointment, which was grouped with other personnel moves on Tuesday's agenda.
After the meeting, School Board chairperson Peggy O'Shea said she approved of Sahadeo for the job. "People like working with her," she said.
Ricardo Davis, president of Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students, said his organization has requested a copy of Sahadeo's resume. The group, known as COQEBS, has for years pressed Pinellas officials to improve predominantly black schools like those in the Transformation Zone. Recently, it reached a settlement in its long-running discrimination lawsuit against the district.
Burt, who came to Pinellas as a highly touted turnaround expert, resigned from the position in May for personal reasons, but has offered to return as a consultant to help with the transition.
"What we know is Dr. Burt has done some good work in some of those schools that are showing progress," Davis said. "The real question is who can best improve upon what he has done. I don't know of anyone in the district with that kind of background and that kind of experience."
Former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor Goliath Davis, who participates in COQEBS, said he did not know Sahadeo personally but thought Sandy Lane's third-grade scores indicated the school was heading in the wrong direction.
"We were looking for an outsider," he said, "someone who would come in and challenge the district's ways."
Corbett said the position was nationally advertised for two weeks and 47 applicants applied. Nine candidates received a screening interview, and four candidates — two external and two internal — received interviews with the superintendent's staff.
Sahadeo, Corbett said, "was the selection as the most qualified candidate." Sahadeo did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
The School Board on Tuesday also approved Carlmon J. Jones, an assistant principal at Pinellas Park Middle, as manager of talent acquisition. He will lead a three-person department created to hire more black teachers until the percentage mirrors the district's black student enrollment of about 18 percent.
Jones will be responsible for meeting that goal, Corbett said, but the district's minority recruitment specialist, Raquel Perez-Russo, will have an exclusive focus on recruiting a highly qualified, diverse workforce.
Corbett said Jones has not worked in human resources before but has experience attending job fairs, hiring teachers and dealing with vacancies. Perez-Russo, he said, comes from inside the human resources department and has worked with administrative postings and interviews.
"I feel like we got a really well-rounded team there," Corbett said.
Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.