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Who will lead the Hillsborough County Public Schools?

Eight candidates are under consideration, from as close as downtown Tampa and as far as Salt Lake City.
OCTAVO JONES   |   Times
The Hillsborough County School Board needs a new superintendent to replace the retiring Jeff Eakins.
OCTAVO JONES | Times The Hillsborough County School Board needs a new superintendent to replace the retiring Jeff Eakins. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Jan. 8, 2020

Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins’ announced retirement gives the School Board a chance to something that have not done in more than a half century: Hire a leader from outside the system.

There is no guarantee that will do so. Under pressure from a faction of the board and community leaders, they agreed on Tuesday to include two candidates from inside their downtown Tampa headquarters.

Still, the hiring process will open the board up to new ideas and a fresh perspective at a time of mounting challenges for the nation’s seventh largest school district.

Ray and Associates, contracted by the School Board in the fall, reached out to 1,219 potential applicants as part of its search. Applicants told Ray that they were attracted to Hillsborough primarily because of its size and location. The 1,219 were scattered in 48 states. These included 93 in Illinois, 71 in Texas and 68 in Iowa.

Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what they are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what they are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA | Times [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Fifty-one applied and, based on survey and focus group information that was gathered in the fall, Ray recommended that serious consideration be given to 13. The School Board narrowed field to eight on Tuesday.

Here are the semifinalists, along with their full application packets:

Alexa Cunningham has been superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District since 2016. There, she leads a school system that has more than 23,000 students. The district is minority-majority, with 56 percent of students receiving free lunch. She oversees a budget of $313 million.

In her time in Utah, Cunningham has implemented new science and engineering standards, increased district graduation rates and created a district literacy focus with reading improvement at all grade levels. She spent much of her career in Arizona. She earned her doctoral degree in education at Arizona State University in 2012. According to the search firm, Cunningham has family ties to the Tampa Bay area.

Alexa Cunningham, Superintendent, Salt Lake City Schools
Alexa Cunningham, Superintendent, Salt Lake City Schools [ Salt Lake City Schools ]

Addison Davis is superintendent of the Clay County Schools. He is the only sitting Florida superintendent to apply for the Hillsborough position, and he is also running for re-election in Clay. Before he joined the Clay district in 2016, he worked his way up to the Chief of Schools position in the Duval County district.

Davis’s accomplishments in Clay include a number of impressive metrics. His team improved the district’s academic state ranking from 20th to 8th place, and from a "B" to an "A" grade. Under Davis’s leadership, the district has improved the district’s bond rating and its fund balance. He has overseen the construction of new schools and increased the number of industry certifications among Clay students. He earned his Bachelors degree in exercise science and physical education at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C, and his masters in educational leadership at Jacksonville University.

Addison Davis is Superintendent of the Clay County Public Schools and a candidate for Hillsborough superintendent.
Addison Davis is Superintendent of the Clay County Public Schools and a candidate for Hillsborough superintendent. [ Clay County School District ]

Stephanie Elizalde is Chief of Schools for the Dallas Independent School District, a position she has held since 2015. She has worked as an educator in Texas since 1987. She has a doctoral degree in educational ledership from the University of Texas. Before starting in her current position, she was deputy chief of school leadership. She also has experience testifying on education issues before the Texas legislature.

Stephanie Elizalde, Chief of Schools, Dallas Independent District
Stephanie Elizalde, Chief of Schools, Dallas Independent District [ Twitter ]

Christopher Farkas is one of two remaining candidates from within the Hillsborough school district. Now Deputy Superintendent under Jeff Eakins, Farkas began his career in teaching social studies. He was principal of Tampa Bay Technical and Freedom high schools, and the first director when the school district created an Area 8 in the southernmost part of the county. Eakins promoted him to chief of operations and facilities, then deputy superintendent. Along the way, he grappled with the district’s transportation crisis, air conditioning breakdowns, and work needed to get public support for a half-cent tax increase for school infrastructure. Now he is in charge of the infrastructure projects, which could exceed $1.5 billion over 10 years.

Deputy superintendent for operations Chris Farkas sent out a letter last week that said the district is considering outsourcing the role of school custodians. [Times (2018)]
Deputy superintendent for operations Chris Farkas sent out a letter last week that said the district is considering outsourcing the role of school custodians. [Times (2018)]

Don Haddad is superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado. He has held that position since 2009 and has received accolades for solving his district’s budget problems. He has also been recognized for establishing partnerships with the business community. He has a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Miami. He did his undergraduate work at Colorado State University.

Don Haddad, Superintendent, St. Vrain Valley School District.
Don Haddad, Superintendent, St. Vrain Valley School District. [ ST. VRAIN VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT | Handout ]

Peter Licata is a regional superintendent for the Palm Beach County School District. In that job, he oversees 59 schools with approximately 65,000 students and more than 5,000 teachers. He took that job recently, after eight years as assistant superintendent for that district’s Choice and Innovation office. Licata was also a finalist for the job of superitnendent in Volusia County. He is Florida-educated, with a BA in business administration from the University of Miami and a doctoral degree in global leadership from Lynn University in Boca Raton. He coached basketball in the 1990s and is an associate graduate professor at Florida Atlantic University.

Peter Licata, regional superintendent, Palm Beach County Public Schools
Peter Licata, regional superintendent, Palm Beach County Public Schools [ Handout ]

James Mcintyre, is an assistant professor of practice and director for educational leadership at the Unviersity of Tennessee in Knoxville. From 2008 to 2016, he was superintendent of the Knox County Schools. Educated in the Northeast, he has a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts. He has moved around from the K-12 to the college world in his career, working at times as an admissions and financial aid counselor and a student services coordinator. He also taught in an alternative high school in Illinois and held numerous administrative jobs in the Boston Public Schools. While he was superintendent in Knoxville, he was a four-time winner of the Tennessee state PTA’s award for Outstanding Superintendent of the Year.

James McIntyre, former superintendent of schools in Knox, Tenn.
James McIntyre, former superintendent of schools in Knox, Tenn. [ Handout ]

Harrison Peters is Chief of Schools for Hillsborough County. He joined the district in 2016 after working in Houston, Chicago and Charlotte Meckenburg. . Profiled by the Times in 2016, Peters is very open about difficulties his family faced while he was a child, and the fact that he has a brother in prison. He speaks candidly about the challenges and needs facing many African American students, especially those living in poverty. Peters served in the U.S. Navy from 1993 to 2001 and has taken post-masters courses at the University of South Florida and Nova Southeastern University.

Harrison Peters, chief of schools for Hillsborough County.
Harrison Peters, chief of schools for Hillsborough County.