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Proposed schools reorganization would add second assistant superintendent

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School Board members hired superintendent Bryan Blavatt two years ago with a mandate: Groom future leaders.

Board members picked Blavatt, a seasoned chief executive from Kentucky, over two internal candidates and directed him to act as a mentor to people who have aspirations for the top job.

Blavatt's contract expires in 15 months, and the 65-year-old has said he doesn't plan to ask for an extension, so a new superintendent will be starting here on July 1, 2013.

So what kind of progress has the superintendent made grooming possible successors?

"I'm not as far along as I'd like to be in that area," Blavatt said.

One reason, he said, is his failure to convince the School Board to approve his plans to reorganize the administrative structure at the district office. Three times, Blavatt has brought forward plans, and three times a majority of the board said no, even though the second and third proposals would have saved the district money.

The driving force behind Blavatt's effort is to more efficiently divvy up duties in what he calls a desperately understaffed district office. Two of his three plans would have added a second assistant superintendent.

The position would also create another launching point for a potential leader. Blavatt praised assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson, saying she is now more prepared to take the helm, but another assistant superintendent would give the board another option.

"I'm fairly confident that over the last two years I've had the opportunity to see where the internal leadership is," he said. "It's a matter of how we put these folks in place."

He will soon try again.

Blavatt said he will bring a fourth reorganization plan to the board, perhaps as soon as the April 17 workshop. The plan, he said, will have two characteristics: It will not cost the district more money, and it will include a second assistant superintendent.

He declined to give names when asked whom he'd like to see in the second assistant superintendent position. He said the position will likely be advertised both internally and externally, but with preference given to qualified internal applicants.

"I'm looking for a person who has the characteristics to be a viable superintendent candidate," he said.

He also said he will not make a recommendation to the board for his successor.

"That might bias people who do like me or don't like me," he said.

The board chose Blavatt over Jackson and Hernando High principal Ken Pritz and may face a similar choice next year.

Jackson, 48, told the Times that she plans to apply for the top job. She was promoted to her current post in July 2009 by Wayne Alexander and served as interim superintendent for seven months when Alexander left in 2009. She currently oversees the areas of school services, curriculum, technology, exceptional student education, adult education, maintenance, facilities and transportation.

That long list helps explain why Blavatt is so emphatic about the need for another assistant, but Jackson said the diversity of the workload has made her a better superintendent candidate.

Working with Blavatt, she said, has helped, too.

"It does give you a different insight when you can communicate with someone who has been established for as long as he has," she said. "I have a lot more growth now than I did then."

Pritz, 54, also said he still has interest in the superintendent's job. He served as executive director of school services from 2002 to 2005 and then executive director of facility and support operations for three years until Alexander asked him to take over at Hernando High to help turn the tide at the struggling school.

The board would have to consider that Pritz's superintendent tenure would come with an expiration date. He entered the state's deferred retirement program last year and must retire in May 2016.

An assistant superintendent post would position him well to end his career as the chief executive.

"I always leave every door open," Pritz replied when asked if he had interest in the assistant superintendent's post.

Few employees in the district have resumes to match those of Pritz and Jackson, but there are some other names worthy of note.

Barbara Kidder, principal at Fox Chapel Middle School since 2010, would not rule out applying for an assistant superintendent's post or for the top job next year, but said so with some hesitance. Kidder, 56, said she doesn't want the Fox Chapel family to question her commitment to them.

"That's my ultimate career goal, but right now I'm very focused on working with our staff and making our school successful," she said.

Kidder has served as the district's supervisor of human resources, human resources director and director of labor relations and professional standards. She applied for superintendent in 2007, when Alexander got the job, and was supervisor of professional development when Alexander assigned her to an assistant principal's post at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill. Kidder applied for the assistant superintendent's post in 2009.

Felita Lott, the district's supervisor of Title I and No Child Left Behind programs, said she is definitely interested in the assistant superintendent's position and also would not rule out applying for the top job next year.

The 41-year-old is a relative newcomer to Hernando, but has experience as a principal in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. She also spent a year as a statewide project coordinator for the Florida Parental Information & Resource Center at the University of South Florida before coming to Hernando in 2010.

"I love Hernando, and I would say if the opportunity is there, then I certainly would like to be considered," Lott said.

Only two members of the board that hired Blavatt will certainly be in office next year during the search process — Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney. Neither returned messages seeking comment.

A third, James Yant, has not decided if he will run this year for a second term. Yant was the only board member who ranked Pritz and Jackson ahead of Blavatt, and said he still favors an internal candidate who knows the district and can best reach out to the community for help as the school system weathers a continuing financial storm.

"My opinion hasn't changed," he said. "You have to be here for years before you can build those kinds of relationships."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Proposed schools reorganization would add second assistant superintendent 03/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 30, 2012 9:15pm]

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