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Is Hillsborough’s next superintendent in sight? Let the vetting begin.

More details emerge on the field of candidates to lead the nation’s seventh-largest school district. A consultant will narrow the field by early January.
The image of superintendent Jeff Eakins appears on a monitor as the Hillsborough County School Board meets at district headquarters in downtown Tampa. The board will meet in early January to narrow the field candidates to replace Eakins, who is retiring.
The image of superintendent Jeff Eakins appears on a monitor as the Hillsborough County School Board meets at district headquarters in downtown Tampa. The board will meet in early January to narrow the field candidates to replace Eakins, who is retiring. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Dec. 17, 2019|Updated Dec. 18, 2019

TAMPA — They are consultants, war veterans and entrepreneurs, even educators who sued their former school districts.

Some have ties to Florida but many do not. They are high school principals and college professors. One is a self-made teacher activist.

The field of 51 candidates to be Hillsborough County’s next school superintendent will be narrowed to about a dozen by Jan. 7. Until then, there is to be no discussion about who should be hired. That was the official plan, at least.

Unofficially, School Board members and community members are having one-on-one conversations with some of the candidates before the board has even met to consider them.

How faithful will board members be to the selection process they mapped out months ago?

"A hundred percent fidelity is going to be a big challenge,” board chairwoman Melissa Snively said. “And I’m realistic about that.”

The candidates’ resumes, which the consultant released Tuesday in response to a Tampa Bay Times public records request, provided a first look at their backgrounds, levels of experience and priorities.

READ THE CANDIDATES’ RESUMES: Files A-L are here; files M-Z are here.

Jonathon Clontz ran the state lottery systems for Wyoming and Oregon. Corey Seymour of Portland is a former Houston police officer.

Addison Davis, the Clay County superintendent who already has made a positive impression on some Hillsborough board members, got his undergraduate degrees in exercise and sports science and history. Apparently he also made an impression on Ray and Associates, the district’s search consultant. In a public statement this week, Davis wrote that “I was contacted and encouraged to apply due to my track record in improving student achievement.”

In narrowing the list, the consultants are expected to consider criteria that the board and community expressed in workshops, focus group meetings and through an online survey.

But qualities that emerged from that process concerned interpersonal skills, not lines on a resume. Respondents said they want a school superintendent who models high standards and promotes a professional environment — a decision-maker who will listen to input, with a “student first” philosophy and an appreciation of Hillsborough’s diversity.

Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively asked her fellow board members to observe a "cone of silence" while selecting the next superintendent. She now acknowledges there might be some discussion early on. [Times (2015)]
Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively asked her fellow board members to observe a "cone of silence" while selecting the next superintendent. She now acknowledges there might be some discussion early on. [Times (2015)]

Snively said she will not be surprised if, on Jan. 7, the board considers candidates who did not make the consultant’s first cut.

The only sitting Florida superintendent is Davis, who put his name in even though he is in the midst of a re-election campaign.

Melissa Erickson, an education advocate, said a number of possible candidates have contacted her to ask questions about the district. Some worried about the School Board, which has gained a reputation for infighting since the 2015 firing of superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

“There definitely seemed to be some trepidation,” Erickson said. “I said we are moving in a positive direction.”

Melissa Erickson, executive director of the grass-roots Alliance for Public Schools, has been answering questions from candidates for the job of Hillsborough County superintendent. She estimates eight strong candidates are in the mix. [Courtesy of Melissa Erickson]
Melissa Erickson, executive director of the grass-roots Alliance for Public Schools, has been answering questions from candidates for the job of Hillsborough County superintendent. She estimates eight strong candidates are in the mix. [Courtesy of Melissa Erickson]

General consensus is that the board will look seriously at outside candidates for the sake of credibility, even though two members of the cabinet — deputy superintendent Chris Farkas and chief of schools Harrison Peters — have applied.

Erickson said there also seems to be a desire to hire someone who already has experience as a superintendent — and not in a tiny school district that would leave that person ill-prepared to run the seventh-largest school system in the nation.

Deputy superintendent Chris Farkas submitted a relatively short resume with his application to become Hillsborough's next superintendent. [Times (2018)]
Deputy superintendent Chris Farkas submitted a relatively short resume with his application to become Hillsborough's next superintendent. [Times (2018)]

“We need someone with a change-management strategy,” Erickson said. “Somebody who knows what to do first, what’s working. Everything is not failing in the Hillsborough County Public Schools. There’s a lot of good stuff."

Of the 51 candidates, men outnumbered women by about three to one. And few had Hispanic names even though 35 percent of students in the district are Hispanic.

Not all were career educators, and the board has asked Ray to consider non-traditional or hybrid candidates. One who is getting attention locally is Lawrence Martin, a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force who commanded a wing at MacDill Air Force Base and now operates a consulting firm.

Hillsborough County chief of schools Harrison Peters is proud of his accomplishments and spelled them out in his application to be superintendent. [Times (2016)]
Hillsborough County chief of schools Harrison Peters is proud of his accomplishments and spelled them out in his application to be superintendent. [Times (2016)]

While Snively and Erickson agreed the field was not as large as it might have been, they were not disappointed either. Erickson, who has been researching the candidates since the list was released Friday, said she believes the field includes eight strong applicants. “And we only need one,” she said.

Snively said it’s too early to decide between Florida or out-of-state candidates, career educators or someone with a new perspective.

“I just want someone who can do the job,” she said. “Do the job and meet the needs of our students and put us on the right trajectory for success.”

Among the revelations contained in the hundreds of pages:

Jim Baumann, now an author and a speaker, spent time as CEO of Outward Bound USA and a manufacturer of outdoor products clothing and equipment. He also pioneered a college textbook rental service.

Latanya Collins was a special education teacher in New York. Not included in the resume: She once sued the school system, alleging professional retaliation after she complained about discrimination against older workers, disabled and minority students.

Some of the applicants have past ties to Florida.

Timothy Gadson, now an associate superintendent in Anoka, Minn., held jobs between 1993 and 2010 in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Andrei Ghelman is an adjunct professor at Florida Gulf Coast University and was director of school transformation for the Lee County School District. There, he writes, he “eliminated all failing schools in the school district.”

The resumes also provide more detail about the four local candidates: Chris Farkas, Ryan Haczynski, Harrison Peters and Gloria Waite.

Although Farkas’ resume was relatively brief, Haczynski, a blogger and Strawberry Crest International Baccalaureate teacher, included his recognition as his school’s teacher of the year in 2011 an 2018. He also mentioned that in 2012, the healthystate.org website called him the “Healthiest Person in Tampa Bay.”

Peters, the chief of schools under superintendent Jeff Eakins, was not shy about his role in Hillsborough’s improved metrics since he joined the leadership team in 2016. These include a 60 percent decrease in the number of F schools and a 10-point increase in the high school graduation rate since 2016. Harrison also touted the decrease in student suspensions, which saved more than 307,000 minutes of instructional time.

Waite noted the doctoral degree in educational leadership that she was to receive this month from the University of South Florida, and her 100 percent success rate when, as a principal coach, she was part of the Preparing New Principals program.

Also with local connections are Polk County high school principal Adam Lane, who is working on a doctoral degree in turnaround leadership at the University of South Florida, and Alberto Vazquez Matos, the former chief of staff in Hillsborough who jumped to Hartford, Conn., in 2018. Vazquez Matos wrote that during his time up north, he helped the Hartford district improve its student reading scores and mitigated a $32 million budget shortfall.

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