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School Board interviews superintendent candidates

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando School Board, in its quest for the district's next superintendent, on Tuesday questioned two familiar faces in interim superintendent Sonya Jackson and Hernando High principal Ken Pritz.

Later, the board grilled newcomers John Phillips and Bryan Blavatt. During each 75-minute interview, they asked about management style, philosophy, strengths and weaknesses.

The board interviews two more candidates this morning and could start negotiations with a chosen candidate by the end of the day. One candidate will not be interviewed. S. Jayne Risen Morgenthal, 62, informed the Board on Monday that she had landed another supertintendent's job.

Here are some highlights from Tuesday's interviews:

Board member Dianne Bonfield focused on two controversies, asking Jackson about the no-zero policy and the revelation that out-of-county students had been admitted to Nature Coast Technical High against district policy.

Jackson, 45, said lost in the no-zero kerfuffle was the goal for more equality in grading throughout the district. "It was about moving forward and making sure students were receiving grades on a consistent basis," she said.

A few questions seemed aimed at making a statement. Board member Sandra Nicholson said some schools aren't sharing their successful methods. "Do you feel it's better for schools to work together or have their own private kingdom?" she asked.

"If you have something that works, then let's use those skills and programs throughout the district," Jackson responded.

When asked how she would deal with the difficult reality that not everyone can be pleased by the superintendent's actions, Jackson said she would welcome suggestions and communicate well.

"I think when you allow an opportunity for communication to take place and are able to express your views, and in some cases agree to disagree, I think that's where growth takes place."

• • •

Hernando High principal Ken Pritz portrayed himself as a loyal taskmaster who has held high-level administrative positions. Pritz, who has held executive director posts over curriculum and operations, said he would use his 30 years in the district to help make solid recommendations and do the board's bidding in the best interests of students.

"I would have the ability to show you I'm a unique person who can come in here and give you ideas," he said. "I'm open to change. I'm open to creativity and I'm open to criticism."

Pritz, 51, said the district hasn't tapped the full potential of grant funding and should expand the high school career academies at and partnerships with Pasco-Hernando Community College to help students earn certifications in their chosen fields.

He acknowledged that he is sometimes perceived as cold or standoffish.

"What people don't know is it's really a shyness," he said. "I have expectations and I'm going to stand by those expectations. Some people don't like you for that. I'm always going to have naysayers but if I know who they are I'm going to work on that in a positive way, not a negative way."

About 15 minutes into the interview with John Phillips, Board member John Sweeney prompted laughs when he noted Phillips' tendency to jump from topic to topic in his lengthy replies. "This is going to be tough, because you've answered a little bit on all my questions," Sweeney said.

Though much of his career has been in urban districts, Phillips, 62, said he gleaned some experience in suburban areas when serving as an associate superintendent in Charleston, S.C.

The former executive director for school reform for Atlanta Public Schools and assistant superintendent in Kansas City, Mo., said he has a record of reducing the dropout rate, improving academics and bringing in resources.

When Bonfield gave him a brief history lesson on the no-zeros controversy and the magnet admissions debacle, Phillips said he would use his communication skills to try to head off such situations and, barring that, would take action to remedy them and mete out disciplinary action if needed.

• • •

By the time Blavatt sat down, Sweeney had three times quoted a line he attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra, asking each of the applicants to reflect on this sentiment: If you don't know where you're going, you're likely to wind up somewhere else.

Blavatt, who retired in 2008 from the Boone County School district in Kentucky after 12 years as superintendent, responded with his own quote from former football coach turned broadcaster John Madden: The guy who invented cottage cheese, how did he know when he was done?

Blavatt, 63, said he has a proven track record of using data and technology to set goals and improve academics in Boone County, and he called Hernando's needs clear. Performance starts to decline at the middle school level and then high school scores go "way down," he said.

"You have to drill down and see what's going on," he said. "You have to decide what needs to be done. Once you can determine where your problems are, shame on you for not fixing them."

He acknowledged one of his weaknesses is impatience. He likes things to happen "at a high rate."

When asked what he would do to convince his doubters, he replied, "Success has a way of doing things to change people's opinions."

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

School Board interviews superintendent candidates 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 8:29pm]

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