Pinellas School Board chooses three superintendent finalists

LARGO — After rejecting a last-minute push to pursue a more aggressive search for a new schools chief, the Pinellas School Board picked three finalists.

One has been a top state education official, the other is a strong academic leader and the third implemented Colorado's first voucher program.

Two board members, Robin Wikle and Glenton Gilzean, pushed for a new search, saying they weren't convinced that the pool was as strong as it could have been.

"To be honest with you, I don't think we've found the best of the best," Gilzean said.

But board member Carol Cook said she was concerned about the message to finalists if the board extended the search. "We're basically saying, 'These people, they're not good enough,' " she said.

The three finalists include

Mike Grego: a former superintendent in Osceola County who was an assistant superintendent in Hillsborough County and successfully handled Florida's request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind. He served for five months as Florida's interim chancellor for K-12 education.

Constance Jones: chief academic officer for Lee County schools since 2003. She was an accreditation specialist for the Maryland Department of Education for one year. She was a finalist for the top job in Palm Beach County last year.

Christian Cutter: assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District in Colorado since September 2010. He was an executive director of schools for Colorado Springs District 11 for three years. He implemented Colorado's first voucher program.

Board members are tentatively scheduled to publicly interview the candidates on Aug. 22 and 23. They also will have private one-on-one sessions with each one. The board will then discuss its next move at a workshop Aug. 28.

It didn't take long Tuesday for board members to whittle down the candidate pool from 50 to an initial list of 10 and then to the top three. Some candidates were unqualified. Others lacked enough administrative experience. Some came from tiny, out-of-state districts.

Just two applicants — Grego and Jones — were selected by a majority of the board in the first go-around. Cutter was selected by three members.

Only one board member made a strong case for an internal candidate. Terry Krassner made a plea to include William Corbett, an area superintendent.

"He is in Pinellas, he can hit the ground running," she said.

Other members said Corbett would be a promising candidate — in a few years. He's been an area superintendent for less than a year.

Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, conducted the search and steered board members away from the other internal candidate, Ron Ciranna. He said Ciranna, head of human resources, had contentious relationships with union representatives and would not be a collaborative leader.

At one point during the discussion of the candidates, Wikle announced that the Pinellas Education Foundation has offered to pay $30,000 toward a new search, done by a professional recruiting firm. The business-led nonprofit organization has been vocal recently in offering suggestions to the district about its leadership and how to save money.

Wikle said the board had time to do another search because superintendent John Stewart said he could extend his stay until March if necessary.

But Blanton discouraged the board from another search, saying it would lose the candidates who had applied. Interview them first, he urged.

"I think you're going to be impressed," he said. "I think your community's going to be impressed."

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Superintendent finalists

Mike Grego

The assessment: Considered "honorable" and "very warm" by those he has worked with. Data driven. Handles controversy well. Has experience and connections in the state Department of Education.

Key question: He left Osceola County early because of a growing conflict with the School Board, particularly with one member. Will he leave Pinellas if he encounters problems with new board members?

Constance Jones

The assessment: Viewed by colleagues as a compassionate leader who works well with parents and board members. Strong skills in curriculum and has taken on greater responsibility with financial issues in Lee County.

Key question: Can she handle the transition from chief academic officer to superintendent?

Christian Cutter

The assessment: Described as a good team player who is student-oriented. Works well with parents. Builds community partnerships. Has worked in affluent, white areas as well as those with greater minority populations.

Key question: He implemented Colorado's first voucher program. Where does he stand on so-called reform issues such as vouchers and charters?

Source: Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, and board member comments.

Pinellas School Board chooses three superintendent finalists 07/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:46pm]

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