The pieces are falling into place for embattled Pinellas County school superintendent Julie Janssen to leave gracefully and for the district to move forward in search of new leadership. The focus should be on the future and improving education as a new school year begins next week, not on rehashing the struggles of the past three years.
Janssen offered Thursday to resign in exchange for a year's salary and benefits, and School Board members should approve a reasonable settlement at Tuesday's special meeting. It is clear from the board members' performance evaluations that they have lost confidence in her leadership, and so have many engaged public education advocates in the community. There is a way to work this out now, and a divisive confrontation would not benefit Janssen or the district. The superintendent and School Board members ought to embrace a settlement that recognizes her long service to the district and clears the way for the School Board to move forward.
It is disappointing that the leadership crisis in Pinellas schools reached this point. Janssen was a respected teacher and principal who rose through the ranks, and her commitment to education, children and the community remains unquestioned. She was widely considered the best choice for superintendent three years ago — including by the Times editorial board — in a relatively weak field. The hope was that Janssen would grow into the job and surround herself with sophisticated advisers she could trust. That didn't happen, and the district has been rushing from one fire to the next.
The School Board also bears responsibility for the lack of focus and direction. At times, board members have been bogged down in minutiae and slow to reach decisions. At other times they have headed in one direction only to reverse themselves after public criticism or lobbying. While they appear to have reached the appropriate conclusion that it is time to change superintendents, it was a mistake to extend Janssen's contract last year and to give her a two-month reprieve this summer that prolonged a dysfunctional situation.
Looking ahead, board members will have to arrange for temporary leadership as they embark on a national search for a new superintendent. It will be difficult to attract quality candidates to a troubled district in a penny-pinching state where teachers feel under attack. But Pinellas has plenty of positives to sell, including strong community support for public education, dedicated teachers and a quality of life not found in many other urban districts.
First, though, Janssen and the School Board have to bring a tidy end to her difficult tenure as superintendent. Janssen provided that opportunity on Thursday, and the School Board should embrace it.