Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pinellas school district needs to rely on superintendent John Stewart

To put this in a format that seems appropriate for the topic:

"It has not been a very good ______ for the Pinellas County school system.''

Now, if you have been following recent stories about the Life Force Arts and Technology Academy charter school, you might fill in the blank with "week.''

Of, if you were paying attention to a stinging audit in February that essentially called the district a monument of inefficiency, you might choose "month'' for your answer.

Or, if you recall the inglorious reign and overdue dumping of the former school superintendent last fall, you might be tempted to put down "year.''

Or, if you have noticed that Pinellas' FCAT scores have not kept pace with those of the rest of the state since 2001, you might just go for broke and write "decade'' in the appropriate spot.

In the end, I guess it wasn't a very good fill-in-the-blank question. Not with so many potentially correct answers.

On the other hand, if you look at it in a larger sense, perhaps it does lead you to one very logical conclusion:


This school district is in trouble. You might have suspected it. You may have worried about it. But when you start stacking the evidence, you cannot possibly deny it.

From the mess of the school choice program to the bloated ranks in the administrative wing to the utter lack of vision, Pinellas County has been battling one perception problem after another for far too long.

That needs to end.

Preferably, starting today.

The School Board meets this morning, with Life Force's charter hanging in the balance. Superintendent John Stewart has recommended a notice of termination, and School Board members should follow through without delay.

In the next week or two, Stewart will be coming back to the board with his recommendations for revamping the district's administrative offices. I'm not suggesting blind allegiance to Stewart's ideas, but someone might want to bring along a rubber stamp.

This district needs an overhaul. It needs a direction. It needs to stop reacting and instead get in front of issues going forward.

And to accomplish all of this, it needs to put its trust in Stewart.

This is a unique opportunity for the Pinellas County School Board. It has a superintendent with widespread respect, vast experience and no reason to play games.

Stewart is not eyeballing another job, as Clayton Wilcox was. He is not indecisive and lacking in leadership skills, as Julie Janssen seemed to be.

Stewart is near the end of a distinguished career, and his only motivation appears to be the welfare of the students. He listens. He considers. He acts.

Those seem to be fairly basic qualities in a school superintendent, but it's been a long time since we've seen that type of leadership around here. Stewart has shown an ability to make decisions without seeming autocratic. To build consensus without being manipulative. To care without ceding his authority.

There is always risk in putting your faith in one person's vision, but the alternative is a more myopic and plodding course.

And we already know how that works.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

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