The accelerated pace at which superintendent Clayton Wilcox worked to bring change to Pinellas schools provides a tempo the district will want to maintain upon his departure. Given the severity and immediacy of the budget crisis, the School Board should accept his resignation and move quickly to name an interim replacement.
Wilcox leaves the Pinellas district better off than when he joined it four years ago, and he seems eager to get started at Scholastic Corp. and the next chapter in his own educational career. His deputy superintendent, Julie Janssen, has spent more than a quarter-century in Pinellas schools, is well-respected and fully capable of taking over. Her selection as an interim leader would assure principals and teachers that the person making difficult budget choices won't be walking out the door once the cuts are made.
An interim appointment need not imply permanent status. That's a decision that will take considerably more time for board members. The value of selecting an interim head such as Janssen, though, is that it signals that the board wants to maintain stability even as the district moves through the traumatic experience of changing leadership. It wouldn't hurt, either, that Janssen brings a credibility with teachers and a personable style that the current superintendent sometimes lacks.
Board members have scheduled their first public discussion of a replacement for Friday, and the election year complicates the debate. Two of the current board's seven members are leaving in November, and two more are up for re-election. With such political uncertainty, an immediate national search might not attract the kind of high-caliber candidates the district would want.
Fortunately, the board enjoys more options this time than it did four years ago. When former superintendent Howard Hinesley left, his second in command announced he did not want the job and many of the seasoned administrators who had worked under Hinesley had retired or resigned. Hinesley himself had been promoted from the No. 2 spot, as had his predecessor, which meant that the board had not searched outside the organization for nearly three decades.
This time around, the board has options both inside and outside the district. Wilcox has been a whirlwind superintendent whose desire to take on another challenge is not entirely unexpected, but he does leave board members with an immediate administrative alternative. Janssen would not miss a beat, and the schools can't afford otherwise.