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Board debates need for veteran leader

That's the key question before the School Board in searching for a new superintendent.

By TOM MARSHALL
Published February 7, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Could Hernando County use a rising star to lead its schools, or would a steady veteran be a better match?

That shaped up as a central question Tuesday, as School Board members weighed a consultant's top picks to succeed retiring superintendent Wendy Tellone.

Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, lavished praise on two area superintendents: David M. Piccolo of Brevard County, and Harry John La Cava of Broward. He also included Duval County principal Lorenda Tiscornia, Hernando administrator Ken Pritz, and former Georgia and Kentucky superintendent Craig Bangtson in his list of five recommended candidates.

All met the board's minimum requirements, with a master's degree and at least five years' experience in a district numbering at least 10,000 students. Blanton said he spoke with candidates and board members, checked references, and asked tough questions.

"I very seldom have a candidate where I can't find any negatives, but this is one of them," Blanton said of Piccolo, who oversees 22 schools and about a third of Brevard's 73,000 students.

People there described the candidate as calm and knowledgeable, and one colleague called him "the best up-and-coming administrator I've ever worked with," Blanton said.

La Cava was described as an able troubleshooter in charge of Broward's 45 charter schools, and an administrator who repeatedly calmed the waters in troubled sections of the 260,000-student district. One colleague said La Cava "knows where every single dime in his budget is," Blanton said.

But board member Dianne Bonfield questioned whether area superintendents, who serve as deputies to the main superintendent, are sufficiently seasoned to lead Hernando.

"I really don't like seeing Hernando County being a training grounds for people who are aspiring to be a superintendent," she said. "Our county deserves someone with a track record."

But other board members said they were open to the possibility of candidates who haven't yet held the top job.

"I've seen some superintendents who are nothing more than glorified principals," said Sandra Nicholson.

Of Blanton's other recommended candidates, Tiscornia and Bangtson have served as superintendents but encountered political problems along the way, he said.

Tiscornia left her Ohio superintendency under pressure after being undermined, but "seems to have the qualities of an individual who is ready to be a superintendent in Florida," Blanton said.

Bangtson left his position as a Georgia superintendent after failing to push through promised reforms as he had done in Kentucky, Blanton said.

As for Pritz, Hernando's executive director of facilities and support operations, Blanton said the board knew the candidate to be a strong administrator of high integrity who handles pressure well.

"He is one of your own," he added.

Board members added a few names of their own to Blanton's short list: Wayne S. Alexander, a school district human resources and operations director from Connecticut; Ray V. Kwak, a New Jersey superintendent; and Michael H. Jones, a former superintendent in Michigan and Washington.

They also agreed to eliminate three candidates whom its citizens' advisory committee had recommended - John Sico Jr., John F. O'Sullivan Jr. and Jay B. Kosner - after Blanton said reference checks had revealed shortcomings.

The board plans to meet Feb. 15 to narrow down its list of finalists and schedule interviews for March.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 22:05:25]


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