It was messy, but the Pinellas School Board ultimately made the best decision for the district by unanimously selecting Julie Janssen as the new superintendent. She will be able to draw on considerable support within the district and the community to build a public consensus on tackling the county's serious public education challenges.
Janssen, who has been the interim superintendent since the departure of Clayton Wilcox earlier this year, has her work cut out for her. The former teacher and principal takes over a district still in need of much change — but not necessarily another abrupt change in direction the outside candidates may have pushed. Pinellas graduates too few students, prepares too few for the work force or college, has a yawning gap in achievement between African-American students and others, and faces a continuing budget crunch.
But Janssen has dedication and the trust of teachers and principals on her side. She has worked in the district nearly all of her professional life, and she cares first and foremost about the students of Pinellas. That's a good place to begin. While she has relatively little administrative experience at the top of the district, she has a good team around her and is a quick study.
The School Board's path to the correct decision was circuitous and unnecessarily painful. First, it voted 4-3 last week to offer the job to Alberto Carvalho, a top Miami-Dade administrator. Fortunately for Pinellas, the Miami-Dade School Board voted on the same day to name him their superintendent and he accepted. Then Pinellas School Board chairman Nancy Bostock oddly insisted on calling a special meeting Tuesday when there was no need to rush. If her motivation was to quickly push through a third candidate, it backfired because another board member facing re-election actually responded to what she was hearing from the community.
Janet Clark, who was one of four votes for Carvalho, joined the three original Janssen supporters to defeat a move to hire Nicholas M. Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools. The board then voted unanimously for Janssen. Clark said she overcame her concerns about Janssen's experience after laying out reasonable steps to ensure the board and the superintendent are on the same page.
That lack of consensus and internal squabbling has been one of the School Board's most persistent problems. But the unanimous vote for Janssen and several conciliatory comments by board members Tuesday offer a flicker of hope. With Janssen as the new superintendent and up to three new School Board members taking office after the election, the district will be able to refocus on education issues and call on the community to help the leadership team it wanted.