Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | Updated February 10, 2022
The Broward School Board named Vickie Cartwright, who has served as interim superintendent since August, as superintendent of Broward County Public Schools on Wednesday, the first female superintendent in the district’s 107-year history.
“It is monumental for this district,” said School Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson. “[We] are very excited for that opportunity to have a woman leading our district.”
At the downtown Fort Lauderdale meeting that lasted for about threehours and featured interviews with Cartwright and Michael Gaal, the two finalists, the School Board voted 8-1 to keep Cartwright,51, as the next leader of the sixth-largest school district in the nation and the second largest in the state, serving more than 260,000 students and employing more than 30,000. Miami-Dade is the state’s largest school district, and fourth largest in the country.
Board member Lori Alhadeff cast the dissenting vote. Initially, the motion passed 7-2, with board member Ann Murray joining Alhadeff in the dissent. But Murray changed her vote in an effort to make the vote unanimous.
Alhadeff sided with Gaal, she said, because she deemed him “the stronger leader in totality” due to his ability to question the status quo and hold others accountable.
Although School Board members will sometimes switch their votes so the decision can be unanimous, Alhadeff didn’t.
“You have to just stay true to your conviction,” she said after the meeting.
Cartwright most recently served as the superintendent for the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, public school system, with about 9,700 students. She spent most of her career with Orange County Public Schools, which encompasses Orlando and is the ninth-largest school district in the U.S. with about 209,000 students.
“I am humbled. I am honored, and I am looking forward to continuing to serve this school district and to serve this School Board as well. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity,’’ said Cartwright, who has 26 years of educational experience, including teaching.
CARTWRIGHT WILL NEGOTIATE NEW CONTRACT WITH SCHOOL BOARD
Cartwright makes $275,000 as interim, but will negotiate a new contract with the School Board. Rich Levinson couldn’t provide a timeline for that process on Wednesday.
Originally, the board stipulated the interim superintendent could not apply for the permanent position, but then backtracked in early November, allowing Cartwright to run for the top spot.
Cartwright bested Gaal, a retired Air Force colonel whose educational experience included serving as the deputy chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Her hiring wrapped up about a three-month national search, spearheaded by Ray and Associates, a company that specializes in educational recruitment.
School Board member Nora Rupert said she chose Cartwright because she prefers her vast classroom experience over Gaal’s varied record.
For the past year, Gaal, 54, has been president of sales at Beable Education in New Jersey. Prior to that, he had held various executive positions in school districts in Detroit, Oakland and Washington, D.C., but has not been a teacher. He also has extensive military leadership experience, including serving as the deputy director of policy under the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon.
Gaal said in his application he decided to return to district leadership after seeing many superintendents retire or leave because of the pandemic.
CARTWRIGHT PRAISED FOR STANDING UP TO DESANTIS
Rupert also praised Cartwright for defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that said districts must give parents the full power to opt out of mask mandates last summer. The Broward district was one of two districts in the state — the other, Alachua County Public Schools — that State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran withheld money from after they went against DeSantis’ mask order.
“She had a courageous and calm countenance when she stood in front of the Department of Education, backed us up, and, for me, Broward County needs someone who’s courageous and calming at the same time,” Rupert said.
PRESENT AND FUTURE CHALLENGES
Cartwright’s three-year tenure in Oshkosh ended with her resignation last March. She quit as a third party, Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6, finished a Gallup survey of district staff.
The outside review came after an anonymous group of school principals sent a letter to the Board of Education, questioning Cartwright’s communication and decision-making strategies, according to the Oshkosh Northwestern.
Several individuals raised concerns about that past during the public comment section Wednesday and throughout the search process since November.
“It’s interesting to me how much action an anonymous letter is getting,” said Cartwright during a press conference after the School Board meeting.
She pointed to the “plethora” of letters of support that she submitted in her application from students, parents, School Board members and others in the Oshkosh community. She also said her six months as interim in Broward have proved she’s collaborative.
“If that were how I really was, that would’ve been apparent by now,” she said.
Cartwright said her greatest concern remains the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 crisis. She wants to regain the academic ground lost in the past two years, as well as ensure the district provides the appropriate services to help students and staff deal with the emotional ramifications of the pandemic.
She said her first order of business will be to fill key senior leadership positions that have been open for a while.
“When you have an interim superintendent, oftentimes, you can tap into your resources. But to ask people to relocate down to South Florida on the possibility that you may not be the permanent superintendent and that a new superintendent could come in and not want you, people are not willing to take that risk.
“Now being in the shoes of permanent superintendent, it really frees me to be able to start recruiting,” she said.
FROM BAND TEACHER TO SUPERINTENDENT
Although Cartwright was born in San Antonio, owing to her family’s military background, her relatives are originally from Pensacola.
She received a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Florida in 1992, followed by a master’s in music education from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995. In 1998, she earned a Ph.D. in educational administration and supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi.
She launched her career as a band director, assistant principal and principal for middle and high schools in Mississippi and Texas.
From 2001 to 2003, she taught music at Hunter’s Creek Elementary School in Orlando. From 2002 to 2018, she taught education courses as an adjunct instructor at the University of Central Florida.
She first joined the Orange County school district in 2003, where she worked for about three years as the program specialist for exceptional student education. In 2006, she was promoted to senior administrator for accountability, research and assessment. In 2011, she rose to senior director for accountability, research and assessment.
In 2013, she became the associate superintendent for exceptional student education there and held that title until 2018, when she moved to Wisconsin. That’s where she came from when she joined the Broward school district last summer.
She has been married to Carl Cartwright for 30 years and has a son, Dylan, who recently graduated from college.
This story was originally published February 9, 2022 1:29 PM.