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State official to join county school district

The state education commissioner's deputy is expected to start June 1

By KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


LARGO -- The state's deputy commissioner of education is leaving Tallahassee for Largo.

This week, John A. Stewart told his boss, Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher, that he wants to become the Pinellas schools deputy superintendent. Tuesday, Pinellas school Superintendent Howard Hinesley told School Board members that Stewart would be taking the district's No. 2 job.

Stewart's new title won't become official until next week, when the School Board will be asked to approve the appointment.

"He brings 13 years' superintendent experience," Hinesley said. "He brings extreme knowledge about Florida."

Stewart -- who has been a teacher, a principal, a district superintendent and a hospital project manager -- became Gallagher's deputy in charge of educational programs in November 1998. While in Tallahassee, Stewart worked on various projects, including speaking about the school accountability plan and working on the state requirement that schools teach character education.

Stewart said that he respects and admires Gallagher but is looking forward to getting back to the district level, where he can interact more with students and teachers.

"I want to join a school district that is considered one of the best in the state," said Stewart, 56. "Pinellas County has always enjoyed marvelous leadership. I consider it an exciting opportunity."

After speaking around the state about the controversial school grading plan, will it be unusual to come to Pinellas where school officials have sharply criticized the initiative?

No, Stewart said.

"One of the great things about any topic you want to pick in education there is room to disagree," Stewart said.

He was appointed and then elected to three terms as superintendent of Polk County schools. In all, he served Polk schools' 13 years. There, he had experience that will serve him well here: He worked on the schools' desegregation plan.

Last week, Polk County was released from a decades-old court order by the same federal judge handling Pinellas County's desegregation case.

Stewart is the second person to be offered Pinellas' No. 2 post. Last month, Brevard County school Superintendent David E. Sawyer accepted and then declined the position. He decided not to move, he told Hinesley, for personal reasons.

Stewart will replace Robert Paskel, who retired after five years with the district. Stewart, who is married and has two adult daughters, is scheduled to start June 1.

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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