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Pinellas school superintendent decision simmers

The Pinellas School Board today will resume its search for a new superintendent, possibly deciding between the two remaining candidates.

Or not.

Several board members say it might be better to wait a few days.

Board members Jane Gallucci and Linda Lerner are out of town this week and will be attending the meeting by phone. Those in favor of waiting say a decision of this magnitude deserves a setting where all seven board members are present. They say the board should make its decision at its next regular meeting Sept. 23.

"I think the community deserves all seven people in there and giving it the time it needs," board member Peggy O'Shea said. "There's no rush here."

Board Chairwoman Nancy Bostock disagreed, saying the candidates have been interviewed three times by board members, vetted by a consultant and closely scrutinized at a public forum.

"Our community is waiting to see where we go next, and I think the best thing we can do is give them a decision," Bostock said. "If we wait a week, we still have the same set of candidates in front of us."

The choice is between Nicholas Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools, and Julie Janssen, Pinellas' interim superintendent. The board's first choice, Alberto Carvalho, on Friday accepted the superintendent's job in his home district, Miami-Dade.

Board members Mary Brown, Linda Lerner and Peggy O'Shea remain strong Janssen supporters, while board member Jane Gallucci has said Gledich is her choice now that Carvalho is gone.

Board member Janet Clark also seemed to be in Gledich's corner Friday, but was having second thoughts Monday.

"One day I feel this way, one day I feel another way," Clark said. "They both have similar qualities."

She has doubts, she said, about Janssen's relatively short experience at the top of the district hierarchy and about her vision for the district. "I just would like to know what she's going to do differently," Clark said.

Janssen became deputy superintendent under Clayton Wilcox in 2006. Before that, she was a high school principal.

With 29 years in the Pinellas school system, she says she has the knowledge of the district and the community contacts that would enable her to quickly take charge.

Gledich has been a district-level administrator in Orange County schools since 1996. He also was a teacher and principal in that system, where he has spent 31 years.

He bills himself as a listener and a collaborative leader who has experience leading all facets of a big school district, from curriculum to school buses.

Before voting for Carvalho last week, board members Carol Cook and Bostock voiced doubts about Janssen that were similar to Clark's. But both have declined to talk publicly about their second choice.

Janssen has received strong support from the Pinellas teachers union, the administrators association and the Pinellas Education Foundation, the nonprofit group that funds scholarships and special programs for Pinellas public school students.

Among those who spoke to the board last week before it chose Carvalho was Gus Stavros, the foundation's founder and a revered figure in Pinellas education circles. He supports hiring from within.

He recalled the first Pinellas superintendent hired from outside the district — Thomas B. Southard, who served from 1967 to 1971 and presided over two teacher walkouts.

"That was the wrong kind of superintendent," Stavros said. "To go to the outside is a big question mark."

Brown says Janssen would work well with people and stabilize a district that went through several changes under Wilcox.

"The community and all of the different groups have spoken," she said. "To ignore that, I feel, would truly be a disservice to the district."

Despite her long connection with Pinellas schools, however, Janssen has so far been unable to get strong backing from a board majority.

Last week, Bostock cited a proposal to change school start times that began under Wilcox but fizzled after he left and the board put Janssen in charge.

"The minute that strong hand was off of that plan, all of the sudden it couldn't happen," Bostock said, questioning whether Janssen had "the mettle to get things done."

Gallucci said she had the same questions.

"There are very specific skills a superintendent needs, not just relationships," she said in an interview. "You have to have a backbone of steel and you have to learn how to say 'No' more than Heinz has beans."

. FAST FACTS

Tune in

The Pinellas School Board will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. today to decide the next step in its superintendent search. The district's television station, WPDS-TV, will carry the meeting live. To find a live feed on the Web, go to www.pcsb.org and see the box titled "pcsNEWS."

Pinellas school superintendent decision simmers 09/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 8:59pm]
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