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Chairman John Sweeney says he'll run for re-election and discusses some goals.
Published Jul. 9, 2010

School Board Chairman John Sweeney wants to come back for more.

When asked in recent weeks if he would try for a second four-year term, Sweeney replied that he was undecided, but leaning toward a re-election bid.

But in answering an e-mailed questionnaire for the St. Petersburg Times' Gradebook blog this week, Sweeney, 46, wrote: "I intend to run for re-election and will make a formal announcement at the proper time."

So far, Sweeney, who owns a Spring Hill wine shop, has not officially filed - nor has anyone else - for the District 1 seat.

Sweeney's fellow board members were unanimous in the decision last month to have him take the chairmanship after board member Dianne Bonfield stepped aside. Bonfield gave up the gavel because she didn't support the decision to choose then-school services director Sonya Jackson as interim superintendent.

Here is the rest of the interview, which is also posted at

How does it feel to be chairman for the first time?

It's an honor to be chairman of the Hernando County School Board.

What are your hopes and goals for the school district in the coming year?

These are just a few items, among many:

- Increase the graduation rate.

- Build on the success of our magnet schools by evaluating their unique programs as we develop an implementation procedure for all schools.

- Continue to remove portable (classrooms) as they are a potential health hazard and fail to meet certain use requirements.

- Safeguard against the continued erosion of instructional time.

- Develop a pilot K-12 engineering curriculum.

- Foreign language full year in all schools.

- International Baccalaureate development.

- Gifted services development.

- Continue to evaluate and improve offerings at Nature Coast Technical High School.

- Integrate the use of virtual courses.

- Decrease student transportation time.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the district?

To serve the individual needs of all students. One aspect of this issue is that students should not have a longer commute to school than their parents do to work. We will be creating new attendance zones over the next couple of years, and we need to get it right.

Former superintendent Wayne Alexander left some hurt feelings and discontent among the rank and file. How would you describe morale in the district today?

The professional field of education, when compared to all other occupations, is the most essential. District personnel are highly educated, dedicated and prepared to meet challenging societal needs.

In recent years, demands on the profession have rapidly increased. Testing and paperwork requirements are encroaching on instructional time. Teachers attend mandatory meetings and training when they would prefer to be tutoring, communicating with parents, grading papers and planning lessons.

Our district personnel have exhibited extraordinary resolve as they endeavor to ensure that the students we present to society are educated, and prepared to become productive citizens, regardless of the path they choose following graduation. It is in this effort, and in spite of all obstacles, that I see outstanding morale throughout our district.

A new superintendent should be in place by July 1. How much confidence to you have in interim superintendent Sonya Jackson?

Sonya Jackson has a broad educational background. She is committed to doing her best on behalf of the entire educational community, and I am confident that she will do so. I would encourage all interested, such as business partners and parents, to meet with Ms. Jackson.

What do you want to see in a new superintendent?

The new superintendent must fully understand the magnitude of the position and the required dedication and responsibility it will entail.

The position is complex, has many facets, and the new superintendent will be able to multi-task while building bridges, not dams. The new superintendent will have a strong educational background and a demonstrated track record of success.