‘The pool is weak’: School Board underwhelmed by superintendent candidates
Few of the 26 applicants for Broward schools superintendent wowed School Board members, who were divided Tuesday on whether to pick from the pool or start over.
The district determined 15 met the district’s minimum qualifications, but a search firm has only recommended four to six candidates for consideration. And even among those, several board members said there wasn’t the “transformational leader” they were looking to fix a district that has faced turmoil in recent years due to a mass shooting, a scathing grand jury report and frequent turnover in leadership.
“I’m not thrilled where we are in terms of the pool,” Board member Torey Alston said. “The pool is weak.”
Board member Nora Rupert said, “If I’m forced to do this, I will vote no on everyone.”
“We must get somebody who is credible and can lead us,” Rupert said. “There are some names on that list, I know them dearly and I believe they would make a good superintendent at another time. Not during this mess.”
Others said the School Board should at least go through the process and select finalists.
‘Whether the pool is strong or the pool is weak, our job is to find the best candidate, and if there isn’t a best candidate that meets our overall standards in the end, we’ll have some other options,” Board member Allen Zeman said. “I would just ask us to go through the process.”
Board members agreed to meet again May 9 to review the 15 applicants deemed qualified and possibly select finalists.
Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff asked Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley, who has a one-year contract, whether she’d be willing to stay on longer if the board can’t find someone immediately.
Smiley is recommending her chief of staff, longtime administrator Valerie Wanza, for the job. Wanza is the only internal candidate deemed qualified by McPherson and Jacobson, a Nebraska search firm hired by the board. Wanza is also backed by several employee groups.
“We have a candidate that’s highly qualified,” Smiley said. “If you want more time, I want to do what’s best for the district, and I’m willing to do that, but you must actively seek a replacement for the job.”
Along with Wanza, the search firm identified three other candidates that it strongly recommends the board consider. They are Peter Licata, regional superintendent, Palm Beach County School District; Jason Nault, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, equity and accountability, Waukegan, Ill., and a former Broward principal; and Luis Solano, deputy superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
These four were recommended after conducting background checks that included references and a review of social media and traditional media reports, said Ralph Ferrie, regional director for McPherson and Jacobson.
The search gave borderline recommendations for two other candidates: Keith Oswald, chief of equity and wellness for the Palm Beach County School District, and Wanda Paul, chief operating officer for the Houston Independent School District and a former facilities and operations chief for Palm Beach County schools.
Nine other candidates are not recommended by the consulting firm but meet the minimum job qualifications of superintendent. They will still be reviewed by the School Board at next week’s meeting. They are:
- Wayne Alexander, principal at Batala School in Bridgeport, Conn.
- Stephen Bournes, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for the Chester Community Charter School in Chester, Pa.
- Raymond Bryant, superintendent of Thomasville City Schools in Georgia.
- James Drake, a senior engineer/superintendent for DTG Associates in California and a former associate superintendent in Gonzales, Calif.
- Michael Esposito, director of pupil services for the Helendale School District in California.
- Ken Goeken, director of special education and support services for the Rocklin Unified School District in California.
- Shernette Grant, chief program officer for Junior Achievement of South Florida.
- Art Stellar, founder and CEO of Stellar Advantage management consulting firm in Hingham, Mass., and a former superintendent in several school districts.
- Adam Taylor, a consultant and former superintendent with Rutland City Public Schools in Vermont.
Ferrie said he had reached out to many top-caliber candidates to try to persuade them to apply by the April 27 deadline.
“I was up very late Thursday night praying and hoping that some of the folks that we spoke with were going to apply, and they didn’t and I was very, very disappointed,” he said.
He said he knows at least one who used the outreach to get more money from his current employer. Several others said they didn’t want to apply because their names would become public under Florida’s Sunshine Law, and that could create problems in their current job, Ferrie said.
“Politically, Florida is a challenge,” he said. “I’m being very straight up with you. It’s very, very challenging.”