LARGO — In front of an overflow crowd, Pinellas County's new school superintendent praised teachers as the "backbone" of education and said he had a simple goal for the school district — to become one of the best in the nation.
Mike Grego, 55, emphasized trust and teamwork during his brief remarks at the start of a community meet-and-greet Monday at district headquarters.
"It takes us all," he said.
More than 100 people came out for the low-key event. District staffers had to bring out extra chairs for the crowd, which included teachers, principals, parents, union leaders and district employees. Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche also was in the audience.
The crowd was welcoming and warm, with one woman offering Grego directions to the beach for any bad days ahead.
Grego, who worked in Hillsborough County Schools for nearly 30 years, drew laughter and applause when he said, "This is the better side of the bay now, I guarantee you."
Board members will vote Tuesday to start contract negotiations with Grego. They expect to bring his contract back later this month for another vote. Superintendent John Stewart, who was not at the event Monday, has said he would step down at any time.
Board member Carol Cook said the audience was a "good cross-section of the community."
Many people asked questions at the microphone, while others waited for an opportunity to mingle afterward. Several speakers said they didn't have a question to ask, they just wanted to welcome Grego to the district.
Arthurene Williams, widow of board member Lew Williams, asked Grego how committed he was to the district's early childhood education initiatives, which include the Lew Williams Project, a community effort to provide education for children from birth to age 4.
Grego said he would not only continue with the projects, but "turn up the fire."
Richard Wisemiller, a 24-year teacher, praised Grego for being willing to run "into the fire" at a difficult time in education. He asked Grego how he would persuade state leaders to curtail budget cuts and "stop our school districts from bleeding."
Grego's response drew applause. He said school officials spend too much time waiting to see what comes out of the state Legislature, rather than sending their ideas to Tallahassee.
"We have to take this profession back to a large degree," he said.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.