John Winn, who helped create Florida's A-Plus plan under Jeb Bush, is returning to the Florida Department of Education as interim commissioner beginning Saturday.
He'll serve until the Florida Board of Education can choose a permanent replacement for Eric Smith, who resigned under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott. That choice could come soon.
Board members, who unanimously approved Winn's selection Wednesday, said they might hire someone as soon as they complete candidate interviews on June 20. They released an updated list of applicants that included some high-profile names they had been hoping for.
Top among them were:
• Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, who previously had said he would not apply. Robinson, former president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, is a strong supporter of school choice, including vouchers.
• Bret Schundler, considered a rising star until abruptly fired as New Jersey commissioner of education in 2010 amid the state's failure to get a federal Race to the Top grant.
• Stacia Smith, superintendent of the Clark County, Ohio, Education Service Center, who is a finalist for the top education job in Ohio.
Also notable: Duval School Board chairman W.C. Gentry and fired Collier schools superintendent Dennis Thompson.
Until a new commissioner is in place, the board plans to rely on Winn to lead the state through many key activities, including implementation of a national Common Core curriculum and Race to the Top initiatives, and leadership of the creation of national assessments for the Common Core.
"There is a lot of important work that is going on," said board member Mark Kaplan, who nominated Winn. "It is really critical that during this time we have experienced professionals at the helm."
Winn is retiring from the national Math and Science Initiative, and heading back to Tallahassee. He told board members of his willingness to do the job.
Retiring commissioner Eric Smith called Winn a "great choice" and said he will work closely with Winn to make a smooth transition.
Stepping in as interim chancellor to replace Frances Haithcock will be Mike Grego, recently resigned superintendent of Osceola County schools who also worked as Hillsborough assistant superintendent for many years. Grego plans to work at the University of Central Florida and will take that job once the interim post ends.
Smith called Grego "one of the strongest academic educators in the state." Grego is set to begin immediately.
The rest of the Florida Department of Education leadership team is on board to remain in place.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.