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Support gathers for Hillsborough superintendent hopefuls

Here is a taste of what is circulating as the School Board gets closer to naming a leader.

TAMPA — Days before Harrison Peters had his name added to the list of superintendent semifinalists, a group of political officials put their thoughts about the chief of schools on paper.

“Mr. Peters’ intimate knowledge of the district equips him with the necessary tools to lead on day one,” says a letter to the School Board, dated Jan. 6 and signed by state Sen. Darryl Rouson, Rep. Diane Hart, Rep. Wengay Newton, County Commission Chair Les Miller and Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes.

The letter notes that, if chosen, Peters would be the district’s first ever superintendent of color.

“Harrison’s lived experience as a black man would bring a set of unique insights and experiences that inform and direct his actions as a leader,” the letter says.

Miller said he hosted the meeting of African American officials at his home. “We have gotten together before, and we got together again,” he said, taken aback at first when asked for details about the meeting.

They invited Peters and questioned him on his views, Miller said. They came away satisfied and wrote the letter together, he said.

It’s not the only correspondence that is circulating in advance of a Jan. 16 interview day for the eight semifinalists.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, a group from the Hillsborough Branch NAACP took issue with efforts taken on behalf of Addison Davis, an applicant who is now superintendent in Clay County. They provided the board with this four-page chapter of an American Civil Liberties Union report on student discipline, singling out Clay County for criticism.

Board member Steve Cona rebuked the group during the meeting and, on Wednesday, emailed four pages about Hillsborough’s student discipline record — taken from the same report — to the Times.

Like the Clay chapter, the Hillsborough material contains statistics that reflect badly on the district.

There is also evidence in the application packets, which were posted on this story, that serious candidates are gathering support. Letters of recommendation, including this one from Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, urge the board to give the top job to deputy superintendent Chris Farkas.

Like Peters, Farkas was added to the semifinalist list after the board’s heated debate.

The Times will continue to post material about the eight semifinalists. If you run across something interesting, feel free to forward it to msokol@tampabay.com.

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