Richard Corcoran promotes insiders to top Florida Education posts

Some observers had wondered whether the commissioner would bring outsiders into the department.
Jacob Oliva, former superintendent of Flagler County schools, will serve as Florida chancellor of K-12 education. He had been deputy chancellor since 2017. [University of Florida]
Jacob Oliva, former superintendent of Flagler County schools, will serve as Florida chancellor of K-12 education. He had been deputy chancellor since 2017. [University of Florida]
Published February 18

When former Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran took over as the state’s education commissioner, much speculation swirled over who he might surround himself with in the Department of Education.

Key posts were available, with the retirements of K-12 chancellor Hershel Lyons and deputy commissioner for finance Linda Champion coinciding with the departure of commissioner Pam Stewart.

A strong advocate for choice programs, including vouchers and charter schools, Corcoran might have pulled from the ranks of the movement — including some vocal conservative school board members who chose not to seek reelection in the fall.

Instead, Corcoran has promoted some key insiders to the top posts.

In a memo to superintendents Friday, the commissioner announced the promotion of Jacob Oliva, deputy K-12 chancellor since 2017, as Lyons’ replacement to head the K-12 operations arena. Oliva, who also served as Flagler County schools superintendent for four years, will oversee the state’s teacher certification, standards and instruction, and other key areas.

He also named Kathy Hebda, a department veteran who most recently worked as Stewart’s chief of staff, to head the department’s division of colleges as chancellor. And he promoted Suzanne Pridgeon, who had been assistant deputy commissioner of finance, to the top finance job in the department.

“Governor DeSantis has charged us with setting bold goals for education in Florida, and these three incredible leaders have proven records of success that will help achieve those goals,” Corcoran told the superintendents in his memo.

The response was quick, and positive, with several superintendents sending their praise particularly for Oliva as an “excellent choice” of a “true champion” of education.

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