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Highlands County citrus grower becomes Florida Board of Education chairman

Andy Tuck has served as vice chairman for four years.
Highlands County citrus farmer Andy Tuck is named Florida Board of Education chairman at a meeting July 17, 2019, in Polk County. [The Florida Channel]
Published Jul. 18

The Florida Board of Education has its first new chairman in four years, with the appointment of Highlands County citrus farmer Andy Tuck.

Tuck, appointed to a second term on the board in early 2018, replaces Marva Johnson of Winter Garden, who held the post since 2015 and was barred from continuing as chair.

In nominating Tuck, board member Michael Olenick joked that Tuck’s four-year apprenticeship as vice chairman to Johnson provided ample training to take over the leadership role. On a more serious note, Olenick noted that Tuck, a former Highlands County School Board member, strongly supports public education and keeps an eye on the needs of small and rural school districts, which can get overlooked in debates where major urban districts generate the most attention.

He has served in the past as vice-chairman of the Florida School Boards Association-Small District Council.

Tuck’s selection won unanimous support. The board then asked Johnson to become vice-chairwoman, with member Ben Gibson observing that she had the necessary knowledge and could easily step in as chair if the need arises.

Tuck accepted the nomination, saying he was “honored and humbled” to serve in a capacity he suggested he really hadn’t considered a decade ago.

He takes the helm of the board at a time when it is rising in influence, under the management of education commissioner Richard Corcoran.

In recent months, the board has more forcefully asserted itself in such areas as the operation of schools in the state accountability system. It has more frequently inserted its preferences into district turnaround proposals, calling for more state leadership to guide districts and even suggesting the need for added authority in cases when the districts do not respond adequately.

Related: Florida education commissioner suggests takeover authority for long-struggling schools

The board is closely aligned to the Governor’s Office, and is taking a key role in overseeing actions including a standards review that Gov. Ron DeSantis has demanded. It appointed Corcoran — DeSantis’ choice for commissioner — without considering other options and is seen as a strong ally in pursuing the governor’s education agenda, which has focused on expanding vouchers, charter schools and other choice options in addition to pushing for improved outcomes in district schools.

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