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Pinellas hires Stewart as interim schools chief

LARGO — Hours after selecting an interim superintendent Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board began shaping the search for a permanent replacement.

It scheduled a meeting to get public input on the search, set another date for a workshop to discuss what it wants to see in the next leader and appointed a subcommittee to begin researching a time line and other details.

"The potential is there (for the search) to be moving along very quickly," said board chairwoman Carol Cook.

The hourlong discussion was another sign the board is turning the page a week after firing superintendent Julie Janssen. Earlier Tuesday, it approved hiring John A. Stewart to replace her on an interim basis.

Stewart, 67, a former Florida superintendent of the year, will begin his $12,000-a-month job Saturday, the day after Janssen's three-year career as superintendent over the 101,000-student district comes to an end.

"There are so many good things about Pinellas County," Stewart said. "I'm anxious to build on those things and make Pinellas County proud of itself."

The board's 6-1 approval came over the strong objections of member Linda Lerner, and some from the public, who felt Stewart's selection happened without proper interest paid to public transparency.

"If we approve this," Lerner said, "we are going against all the processes we believe in."

Stewart's name surfaced as an option days before board members even publicly discussed Janssen's possible termination. Within minutes of approving her firing, board members voted 5-2 to begin contract negotiations with Stewart.

"It's not the person, it's the process," said Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, imploring the School Board to vet more possibilities.

Stewart worked as deputy superintendent under Pinellas superintendent Howard Hinesley from 2000 to 2003 and some board members knew him then. He left that position to take another at the Florida High School Athletic Association in Gainesville, where he retired as executive director in 2009. He led the Polk County school district for 13 years until 1996 and soon after was named a deputy commissioner of educational programs at the state Department of Education.

Under the terms of his contract, Stewart must move to Pinellas County for the length of his service. He lives in Winter Haven with his wife of 44 years.

Board member Lew Williams, a former district administrator who worked with Stewart when he was in Pinellas, said Stewart worked hard back then to help find scholarship opportunities for African-American students.

"I stand firmly with no reservations, no apology for John Stewart to be interim super in this district," Williams said.

He added that any questions about whether the board followed proper policy in reaching out to Stewart were answered when the board's attorney said it was within the law.

Later in the day, the board set two meeting dates: a public hearing Sept. 27 to get input about the search process and a workshop Oct. 4 to discuss criteria for a new superintendent and the next steps in the search.

The board also scheduled a workshop Tuesday — Stewart's first real day on the job — to give the interim leader direction.

Several board members said that among other priorities, they want Stewart to help restore faith in the district. Member Terry Krassner suggested recent events have already begun to do that.

"I have a lot of confidence that we're going to be on a positive track," Krassner said. "There's real hope out there."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com. Ron Matus can be reached at (727) 893-8873 or matus@sptimes.com.

Pinellas hires Stewart as interim schools chief 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 11:25pm]
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