LARGO — Before the Pinellas School Board makes a decision on a replacement for outgoing school superintendent Clayton Wilcox, an influential local education group will have its say, the organization's leader has promised.
"I'm sure we'll have a discussion about where we want to be in the process regarding particular traits or leadership abilities," said Terry Boehm, president of the Pinellas Education Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars from local businesses to support public schools in Pinellas. "It would certainly be within our right to do that."
One trait the foundation will insist upon from any candidate, Boehm said, is a commitment to increasing career and technical education opportunities for high school students. For more than two years, he said, the group has considered such programs the surest route to reducing the dropout rate and improving Pinellas' sagging graduation rate.
The group is so convinced that the district's future depends on the creation of rigorous career education programs, Boehm said, that its board of directors might suggest that the School Board look for a new superintendent from among the ranks of business and industry.
"I don't think the board should be shortsighted and discount that possibility," he said.
While such a move would be unprecedented in Pinellas, it's not unheard of elsewhere in the state. The Okaloosa County School District selected former health care administrator Don Gaetz to lead its operation in 2000. Gaetz, who now heads the Senate Education Committee, took the district from 27th among the state's 67 school districts to No. 1. Last year, 31 of its 33 schools earned A's from the state.
Boehm thinks that's the type of leadership Pinellas needs.
"The question should be, 'Are we going to do something different?' " he said. "That ought to be part of the conversation no matter who they look at."
Wilcox, who came to Pinellas in 2004, announced last week that he would like to leave the district by June 1 to take a job with Scholastic Corp., the children's book publishing giant. The School Board plans to meet Friday to discuss how to replace him.
Donna Winchester can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8413.