LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board's four-month search for a new superintendent wound toward conclusion Monday as three finalists showed up for their final interviews with stepped-up intensity.
"I still have dirt in my teeth from being where the rubber hits the road," interim superintendent Julie Janssen told the board, responding to a question that focused on the fact that she has two years experience as a district level administrator compared with 10 and 12 years for the other two finalists. But she sought to turn that deficit into an asset.
"If you haven't been there for a while, you really don't remember what it feels like or what it looks like, how (a decision) is going to be implemented at the school level," said Janssen, 59.
"My heart is still on fire for those kids, because I still remember very well what they look like," she said. "I think that helps me do a better job. I'm not as set in my ways."
The board is expected to select a superintendent Wednesday.
Nicholas Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools, also sought to play to his strengths. Asked by board member Mary Brown why he should be the next superintendent, Gledich responded: balance.
In his 12 years as a district-level administrator for Orange County, he has supervised on the curriculum or teaching and learning side of the district and on the operations side, which includes busing, food service, purchasing and other functions.
"I've had success in both areas, I've had failures in both areas, and I've learned from both," Gledich, 55, told the board.
He also produced a slick color brochure outlining his own Superintendent's Entry Plan that would govern his first 100 days in Pinellas. In the document, Gledich said his goal was to make Pinellas "a system of excellence and distinction."
The third finalist, Alberto Carvalho, could not make the formal interview and will face questions from the board today. An associate superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, Carvalho was tied up Monday with his district's preparations for Hurricane Ike.
Carvalho, 43, made it to Pinellas in time for a community forum at the Stavros Institute in Largo, where a crowd of about 150 people met the finalists and asked questions. Carvalho introduced himself as a Portuguese immigrant who came to the United States in 1982 at 17. "It is that search for opportunity that still drives me as an educator," he said.
He spoke about the state's budget crisis and how his experience securing millions of dollars in grant funds for Miami-Dade could help Pinellas weather the storm.
"Some things should give and some things should not give," Carvalho told the crowd, putting student health programs, the arts and high academic achievement in the latter category.
He spoke emphatically when asked a question about programs designed to cut down on discipline problems in school. Carvalho said the key was to start such programs in the early grades.
"The question for me is, 'Are we teaching kids how to shake a hand, how to look somebody in the eye, how to feel better about themselves than the labels they wear?' "