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Three in running to lead Pinellas schools

The finalists are all experienced administrators, and two are familiar with how Florida ticks.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published March 12, 2004

Three seasoned school administrators from smaller districts outside Florida are looking to take their careers to the next level in Pinellas County.

Beginning today, the School Board will take its first look at the candidates, who were culled from a national field during a three-month search conducted privately by a consulting firm to allow prospective candidates some measure of confidentiality.

A series of interviews is expected to conclude with a selection on Thursday.

The candidates are:

Timothy R. Jenney, 51, superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Joseph J. Marinelli, 60, superintendent and CEO of the Wayne-Finger Lakes Board of Cooperational Educational Services, a collection of smaller rural districts between Syracuse and Rochester, N.Y. Clayton M. Wilcox, 48, superintendent of East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana.

Two of the candidates have significant experience in Florida - Marinelli as a high-level administrator in the Orange and Union county school districts, and Wilcox as a top administrator for St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine.

All three began their careers as teachers or guidance counselors. They are seeking to replace retiring superintendent Howard Hinesley.

Jenney will be the first candidate interviewed, starting at 9 a.m. today at school district headquarters in Largo. Marinelli will follow at 1 p.m., and Wilcox will be interviewed Saturday.

All three work for districts with 45,000 students to 75,000 students. That compares to Pinellas, the nation's 22nd-largest district, which has about 112,000 students.

Some School Board members said they expected candidates from smaller districts because most school districts are smaller than Pinellas.

"When I saw the resumes and I saw the quality of the candidates, I was thrilled," said board chairman Jane Gallucci. "I was like, "Wow.' "

* * *

Jenney took the superintendent's job in Virginia Beach eight years ago after heading smaller districts in Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina. He began his career as an elementary and junior high teacher in Battle Creek, Mich.

When he took over in Virginia Beach in 1996, the oceanside community was in dismay over its school system, which had a $12-million deficit and a school board in crisis. Several board members resigned and were replaced by appointment. Elections followed, forcing Jenney to deal with nearly 30 different board members early on in his tenure.

He is credited with quickly reversing the district's fortunes. Jenney instituted financial controls, created a budget surplus and has started to deal with the achievement gap between minority and white students. He also launched a program of academy schools much like Pinellas County's magnet schools.

He is said to be smart and personable but also prone to ruffling feathers.

He has run into controversy, including a flap last year over his engagement to a principal he supervises. The two have since married.

"He's not making everybody happy all the time, but on the whole I think anybody you ask would say the (district) is headed in the right direction," said Neil Rose, vice chairman of the school board, which has extended his contract three times.

* * *

Marinelli started his career in 1967 as a guidance counselor at Union County High in Lake Butler, earning $7,060 a year. Today his income is closer to $200,000, but it's been a long road to get there.

He was a grants consultant for Biscayne College in Miami, then executive director of an education foundation in Orlando, later an administrator in Union County Schools, then a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the Florida Department of Education. He also was an associate superintendent for Orange County Schools in Orlando.

He left Florida in 1989 to run the school system in Livonia, Mich., a Detroit suburb with 18,000 students.

After five years, he moved to his current job heading one of 38 agencies in New York state that act as educational cooperatives. Marinelli oversees 25 school districts in four counties.

School Board president Mary Lue Mueller, a dairy farmer, said Marinelli is good at budgeting, good at recruiting and has a sense of humor.

"That is definitely the sign of a good CEO - that you can get people on board that you can work with and that can get the job done," said Mueller, who also praised Marinelli's grace under pressure.

Florida has changed since Marinelli headed north 15 years ago. Orange County had 92,000 students, not the 160,000 it has today, and the achievement gap is a top issue.

In rural New York state, however, that hasn't come up much: "The minorities are very few," Mueller said.

* * *

After 12 years as a teacher in Waterloo, Iowa, Wilcox became an assistant principal in 1992. By 1994, he was a principal. That same year, he took a job as personnel director for the St. Johns school system in St. Augustine. Within seven years, he was deputy superintendent.

He moved to East Baton Rouge in 2002 as deputy superintendent, rising to the district's top job 15 months later.

Like Pinellas, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System is struggling with pressure from the state and federal governments to raise student achievement while also handling budget problems.

For a school district that is 75 percent black, Wilcox has recruited several private foundations to help with money and programs. He also isolated 23 of the district's poorest performing schools into a "sub-district" called Pathway to Student Success and challenged the principals to improve. As a Mexican-American, he is the only minority among Pinellas' three candidates.

Wilcox is said to be a "workaholic" and is aggressive to the point of being blunt.

"Some people think he is too strong, that the bluntness is not the way to go sometimes," said East Baton Rouge school board member Janet Pace. "But I think we've got a really tough job here."

She added, "I would hate to lose him."

DISTRICT PROFILES EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SCHOOL DISTRICT (WILCOX)

TOTAL SCHOOLS 106

TOTAL STUDENTS: 52,350

TOTAL TEACHERS: 3,567

TOTAL BUDGET: $300-million

VIRGINIA BEACH CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS (JENNEY)

TOTAL SCHOOLS 85

TOTAL STUDENTS: 75,970

TOTAL TEACHERS: 5,213

TOTAL BUDGET: $534-million

WAYNE-FINGER LAKES BOARD OF COOPERATIVE EDUCATIONAL SERVICES (MARINELLI)

(includes 25 suburban and rural school districts)

TOTAL SCHOOLS 87

TOTAL STUDENTS: 45,000

TOTAL TEACHERS: not available

TOTAL BUDGET: $519-million

PINELLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT

TOTAL SCHOOLS 144

TOTAL STUDENTS: 113,000

TOTAL TEACHERS: 8,000

TOTAL BUDGET: $1.2-billion

- Source: Pinellas School District; National Center for Education Statistics

[Last modified March 12, 2004, 02:05:29]


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