Board could hire leader this week

Five finalists will interview for the superintendent job. Here are two of them.

Published March 12, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The leadership transition in the Hernando County Schools will accelerate this week, as five finalists vie for the chance to succeed the retiring superintendent, Wendy Tellone.

School Board members have voiced concerns about the search process in recent days, as resume inaccuracies forced the withdrawal of one finalist and cast doubt upon another.

But there is still a chance that the School Board could narrow its list of finalists to one and make a job offer - perhaps as soon as Thursday night, after a day of interviews.

Today and Tuesday, the Times introduces five educators who aspire to lead Hernando County's next generation.

Wayne S. Alexander

He's a jack-of-all-trades in a district that needs it - a place where 85 percent of children come from minority communities, 100 percent qualify for a free or reduced-fee lunch, and there's never enough money for everything.

Five years ago, 46-year-old Wayne Alexander took over the high school in New London, Conn., a city that saw its heyday in shipping and manufacturing in the 1800s and has been on the decline ever since.

"It was a tremendous apathy, a sense of just being happy kids showed up at school and not necessarily having high expectations," Alexander said. Now test scores are up and there's a climate of achievement.

After a year and a half he was promoted to the central office, where his official title now reads "Director of Human Resources and School Operations."

The job includes a lot more than union negotiations and recruitment for the 3,400-student district. He oversees professional development and school improvement, transportation, maintenance, security, food services - the list goes on and on.

"You have to wear many caps," Alexander said. "I have a secretary-and-a-half to help me."

He reckons it's a perfect training ground to manage the complexities of a larger district like Hernando, where effective delegation is critical.

Whether a district enrolls 2,200 students or 22,000, he said, the management priorities are the same: listen to your school board and community, work with them and develop a common vision.

Over the course of his 24-year career in education, Alexander has served in the trenches as a principal, assistant principal and special-education teacher. The experience left him with a distaste for the traditional, aloof role of the central office in most school districts.

In his view, central offices should serve the schools and families, finding ways to say "yes," rather than reflexively saying "no."

"Maybe you can't get 100 percent of that 'yes' this year, but you get a piece of it this year and a piece of it next year," he added.

And he plans to bring the lessons he learned from helping an old Yankee district pull itself up by its bootstraps.

"Teaching is a never-ending process of professional growth and improvement," Alexander said. "It may work this week and not next week. Kids aren't that predictable."

David M. Piccolo

When David Piccolo began his career in the early 1980s as a basketball coach and math teacher in Daytona Beach, he thought he'd reached the pinnacle.

Look at him now.

In the last 12 years the 49-year-old administrator has risen from assistant principal to area superintendent of the 78,000-student Brevard County schools. In that lieutenant's role he oversees 20,000 students, 25 schools, and about 1,500 teachers and staff.

"I've been fortunate to have good mentors and people that believe in me," he said recently. "They kind of show you what your potential is."

Colleagues describe him as an up-and-coming star with an unflappable management style.

"You're going to have problems and issues," Piccolo said. "What I try to do is make myself available for people and call them back as soon as possible. You are at least acknowledging a concern and you're listening."

He points with pride to the "C" school he brought to "A" status under the state's evaluation system as a new high school principal in 2000.

More recently, Piccolo has supervised the construction of two schools and managed two school-rezoning efforts.

While most of the schools he supervises are in affluent, beach-front neighborhoods, he said, "across the river I have four or five (low-income) Title 1 schools. They all earned A's."

Piccolo hasn't participated directly in the reform of low-performing secondary schools, but he's seen the process unfold in Brevard. As with many communities, Hernando may need to consider changes to the high school experience "to make it relevant," he said.

But before that can happen, there will be plenty of discussions, using solid data and research to develop a common vision, he added.

"You're surely not going to get anywhere saying, 'I'm here and get out of the way,' " Piccolo said. "If you try to lead by yourself, you're not going to last long."

Fast Facts:


The candidates


Age: 49

Hometown: Merritt Island

Experience: Area II superintendent, Brevard County; former principal, teacher and coach.

Education: Doctorate in education, Argosy University, Sarasota.

Family: Married, father of daughters ages 22, 9 and 6.


Age: 46

Hometown: New London, Conn.

Experience: Director of human resources and school operations, New London; former principal, special-education teacher, consultant in New England and Sarasota.

Education: Doctorate in education, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale.

Family: Divorced, father of a 24-year-old daughter and sons ages 21 and 22.


See the candidates

Wednesday: Public reception in the School Board meeting room, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Hour-long interviews of each candidate, School Board meeting room, beginning at 8:30 a.m.