Advertisement
  1. Education

Hillsborough School Board approves Jeff Eakins as new superintendent

Hillsborough’s School Board voted 4-3 to make Jeff Eakins its next superintendent, assuming a contract can be reached.
Published Mar. 4, 2015

TAMPA — Jeff Eakins, a longtime Hillsborough County School District employee with a gentle manner and a vision of helping more students graduate, was selected Tuesday as the next superintendent of the nation's eighth-largest school district.

The offer is contingent on the School Board and Eakins agreeing on a contract by June 9, three weeks before superintendent MaryEllen Elia will leave the job. Elia, whom the board voted to fire on Jan. 20, begins a vacation on Friday that will last until her contract runs out June 30.

"I have always been proud and I always will be proud to say that I have served as superintendent of the Hillsborough County schools," Elia said at the end of Tuesday's meeting, her last after 10 years in the position.

Eakins, 49 and now deputy superintendent, said he wants to make sure "every student is prepared for graduation, they're prepared for after graduation, and they're prepared for life."

No details about the contract have been determined yet, including how long it would last or Eakins' salary.

Although all seven members had high praise for Eakins, the decision to hire him did not come without a heated and often confusing discussion that highlighted continuing divisions on the board.

Tuesday's 4-3 vote to hire Eakins was identical to the vote that ended Elia's tenure. Dissent came from board members Doretha Edgecomb, Carol Kurdell and Melissa Snively, who wanted to conduct a national superintendent search.

The other four thought a search would be a waste of time, given Eakins' strong qualifications and rank-and-file support. April Griffin called the search exercise "a dog and pony show." Edgecomb took offense at that characterization and Griffin apologized to her, then repeated the phrase.

Snively argued that a search was needed, both to help members agree on qualities they wanted in a leader and to restore public confidence in the board, which suffered with Elia's dismissal. "The public is who I serve, and perception is reality to the public," Snively said.

But the recently re-elected Griffin said she was unmoved by pressure from political and business leaders to conduct a search. "The political environment? Bring it," she said. "It's already been brought. And I won."

Eakins comes to the job with 25 years of experience in the district, mostly as a teacher and administrator in high-poverty elementary schools. He worked as the district's director of federal programs before Elia tapped him to join her cabinet in 2013.

In addition to working on the graduation rate, Eakins has said he hopes to address employee morale in the district.

Tuesday's agenda also included a plan to hire a search firm in the event the board did not extend Eakins the conditional offer. After the vote to hire Eakins, members struggled with the search firm issue and took a five-minute recess to regroup.

When they returned, and agreed 6-1 to shelve the search firm action, Eakins was able to react publicly to their earlier decision.

He told the three who had voted against hiring him that he fully understood their position.

He thanked his former bosses, including Elia. He grew emotional when he acknowledged his parents in Ohio, who both were educators.

He said his wife, school academic intervention specialist Peggy Jo Eakins, did not accompany him to Tuesday's meeting because they did not want to presume, or appear to be pressuring the board to hire him.

"She's been very patient," he said. "And I'll probably have to spend two hours explaining to her tonight what happened."

Contact Marlene Sokol at msokol@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356. Follow @marlenesokol.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A Florida black bear (not this one) was found at a Marion County school and removed. CARLTON WARD JR  |  Carlton Ward Jr
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. Adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize Tuesday, joining thousands of other adjuncts across Florida who are fighting for better working conditions and pay. [Times]
    The employees are the seventh group in Florida to join Service Employees International Union in recent yeas as it pushes for investment in the state’s higher education institutions.
  3. A pauper's cemetery was established at the northeast corner of property now occupied by King High School in Tampa, location of the school gymnasium (tall building at top left) and the main parking lot. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Conflicting versions emerge of where Ridgewood Cemetery was located. One thing is certain: It was ignored or forgotten.
  4. The University of South Florida ranked ahead of UCF, FIU and FAU in the U.S. News & World Report's Global University Rankings. [USF handout]
    The University of Florida finished 105th, while USF came in at 310. Harvard led the world.
  5. Workers begin construction in 2010 on what would become Winding Waters K-8. That was the last new public school built in Hernando County, which faces capacity strains as officials ask for impact fee increases to keep up with growth. HERNANDO TODAY PHOTO BY HAYLEY M  |  Hernando Today
    The district first would add classrooms at three existing schools, but could need four new schools by 2039.
  6. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  7. Pre-season baseball practice at Wesley Chapel High School. Lawmakers want to ensure student-athletes remain safe in the Florida heat as they participate in high school sports. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    PreK-12 Innovation chairman Rep. Ralph Massullo expects legislation requiring some ‘simple things.’
  8. First-year Cox Elementary School teacher Kevin Knibbs, 33, of Dade City, answers questions about the components of time: hours, minutes, seconds, to his third-grade class on Monday, September 30, 2019, at the school in Date City. From left are students Angel Young, 8, Arlene Luna, 8, and Jahkia Gray, 8. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Special Olympics athlete Lucas Yingling, 7, is cheered on by Pasco-Hernando State College basketball player Hayden Greene during a conditioning clinic held at Wendell Krinn Technical High in New Port Richey. Michele Miller
    Team members help Special Olympians hone their skills.
  10. First-year Cox Elementary School teacher Kevin Knibbs, 33, of Dade City, walks with students Angel Young, 8, left, and Kaivion Williams, 9, right, while en route to his third-grade class on Sept. 30 at the school in Date City. Knibbs decided to become an educator after working as a school custodian. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Kevin Knibbs never thought about working with students — until he started interacting with them.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement