School Board to hear finalists
By TOM MARSHALL
Published March 13, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Five visitors will be coming before the Hernando County School Board beginning Wednesday.
And one of them could be the next superintendent of schools.
Over two days of meetings, tours and interviews, the five will make their case to succeed the retiring Wendy Tellone and remake the county's schools for future challenges.
School Board members have raised the possibility of either voting on a finalist, perhaps as soon as Thursday night, or extending the search.
In the second installment of profiles, the Times introduces the remaining candidates and the philosophies that have governed their careers.
She starts out with a handicap: several Hernando County School Board members have said they're not interested in her candidacy, after learning she significantly overstated some enrollments on her resume from school districts where she has worked.
But Lorenda Tiscornia plans to make her case this week to lead the Hernando County Schools, regardless of the odds.
"I believe I'm in this for the kids," she said.
As superintendent of the 2,835-student Hillsboro Ohio Public Schools from 1997 to 2001, Tiscornia passed a tax levy and moved the district off a state performance watch-list. But her School Board bought out her contract in the fall of 2001.
"We just didn't see eye to eye on some issues," Tiscornia said, declining to elaborate. "I was very successful."
She then served for two years as assistant superintendent for human resources in the Akron (Ohio) Public Schools, where she reorganized her department and cut costs by 16 percent.
In her current role as high school principal at A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology in Jacksonville, she brought a building with an "F" grade to "almost a B," developing career programs and pushing kids beyond their comfort zone.
Students in struggling schools also need plenty of "safety nets" from adults to support the overall reform effort, she said.
"A lot of these kids need to know they can be accelerated," Tiscornia added. "We need to push kids."
Ray V. Kwak
Ray Kwak is not the sort of superintendent who likes to draw attention to himself.
"To me the key to everything is that people are happy with their school district, they believe they're getting the benefit of their dollar, and they see academic growth," he said. "I don't see the need to push myself out there and take credit for that."
Over a 32-year career as a school superintendent, mostly in small districts in New York and New Jersey, he's developed a reputation as a good man with a budget, and a hard bargainer with teachers unions. Hernando County's larger population doesn't intimidate him.
"I served almost seven years in a district of about 9,000 kids, it had 14 buildings and a budget of about $100-million," Kwak said. "Management is management. In many cases it's easier in a large district because you have more staff."
These days he supervises about 2,000 students, serving as superintendent of both the Haledon, N.J., public schools for elementary and middle grades, and a neighboring regional high school.
His elementary school is applying to become a gifted-education center, and the high school already attracts students from other districts to its choice programs in computer technology.
Such programs can attract families who might otherwise leave public schools altogether, he said.
He doesn't lose a lot of sleep over the headaches of being a superintendent, such as dealing with difficult parents or school boards.
"I learned a long time ago that no matter what, the sun is going to come up the following morning," Kwak said. "We try to do the best we can for kids, and hopefully there's some positive things take place. It's a job, it's no different than any other job."
Harry J. La Cava
In a fast-growing state with plenty of challenges, Harry La Cava has spent his career in the thick of it.
As an area-superintendent for the 260,000-student Broward County Schools since 2004, he oversees 47 schools.
He also supervises 48 charter schools, monitors more than 10,000 student reassignments per year, and runs the district's expulsion and disciplinary programs.
Compared with that, Hernando County looks like a refreshing change of pace: an opportunity to spend more time with principals and students.
"I like the idea of having that connection to schools," La Cava said.
Trained as a social studies teacher, he found himself working with emotionally disabled students in Gainesville at the start of his career in 1977.
But his own son's diagnosis of learning disabilities gave him a new window into the system.
"I sometimes had to challenge people, not because of title, but just because I had a kid with challenges," La Cava said. "It made me much more aware of what happens to families in that situation."
Since then he's run ESE center-schools, and served as a Broward area director since 1996.
He tries to frame issues in terms of the common good when he fields School Board proposals: "Is it good for all children?" he asks. "If it is, why don't we do it everywhere?"
And when he sees a struggling high school, he thinks about ways the adults might better coordinate their efforts.
"We forget, outside in the real world, people don't work in isolation, they work together," La Cava said. "Maybe the departments need to be all together, talking about it."
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.
HARRY J. LA CAVA
Hometown: Cooper City
Experience: Area superintendent, Broward County; former administrator, teacher
Education: Doctorate in education, Nova Southeastern University
Family: Married, sons ages 18 and 22
RAY V. KWAK
Hometown: Pompton Lakes, N.J.
Experience: Superintendent, Haledon, N.J.; former superintendent, teacher
Education: Doctorate in education, State University of New York at Buffalo
Family: Married, three grown children
Experience: High school principal, former superintendent
Education: Doctorate in education, University of Minnesota
See the candidates
Wednesday: Public reception in the School Board meeting room, 6 p.m.
Thursday: Hourlong interviews of each candidate, School Board meeting room, beginning at 8:30 a.m.