The search for the next Pinellas County schools superintendent, mired from the start by a pinched search and unimpressive pool of applicants, doesn't look much better in the flesh. The School Board's stilted public interviews Wednesday did justice to neither the three finalists nor the public, so any real vetting will be done today in private one-on-one interviews with board members. The board is set to consider its next step on Tuesday. Based on the public interviews, it still should consider scrapping this search process and starting over.
Each of the three candidates demonstrated their bona fides as educators. One candidate, Mike Grego, the former Osceola County superintendent, put on by far the most impressive performance with the most engaging manner, demonstrative leadership skills and the best grasp of the kind of leadership the district needs at this moment in history. Constance "Connie" Jones, a chief academic officer in Lee County, showed understated passion for student achievement but often sounded more like a bureaucrat than a superintendent. Christian "Chris" Cutter, an assistant superintendent in a smaller district in Colorado, seemed to have failed to do enough homework, appearing not to know even some basic details of Florida's accountability system that has received so much national attention in education circles.
Not that these impressions are all the candidates' fault. The board's decision to ask identical, and often overbroad, questions of the candidates and dissuade any follow-up or discussion by board members was unnecessarily rigid. The questions were not germane to individual candidates' resumes, robbing the public of the chance to see candidates respond. Grego, for example, should have been asked publicly about why he left the Osceola superintendent's job. Jones should have been asked to give insight on why she didn't recently win the top job in Lee County, where she has built an impressive career. And Cutter should have been asked to marry his work in Colorado on a private school voucher program with his bid to run an urban public school district.
Board members are likely to ask more probing questions in today's private interviews — but those questions should have been asked publicly of individuals who seek to run the county's largest employer. Members will report on their findings Tuesday when the board meets to consider what step to take next, from picking finalists for the job to jettisoning the process and starting a new search. For a true competitive process to produce more than one viable candidate, it appears the best option may be to start over.