The Ledger | by Kimberly C. Moore | February 19, 2021
LAKELAND — The Polk County Public Schools citizens advisory committee on Thursday evening whittled 52 candidates who applied for school superintendent to their top seven.
“This is one of the largest fields we’ve had,” said Florida School Boards Association consultant Bill Vogel.
Current Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd announced in May that she would retire from one of the largest districts in the nation, with more than 107,000 students last year and 150 schools.
The School Board then set about to start the process of hiring an expert to help them with selecting the new Polk Schools leader. FSBA, which, among other things, assists districts statewide in finding the right candidate, won the contract for about $35,000.
In November, FSBA held a series of meetings with the public to determine the qualities they wanted. In December, the district advertised the positions and received applications from all over the country. The deadline was Jan. 31. The committee picked 15 semifinalists last week and then Thursday night refined the list again by nearly half when the panel of 36 people voted for their top picks. They all chose more than one person on the list. They are:
• Harold Border — currently chief of high schools for nearby Orange County Public Schools and previously an area superintendent and principal, assistant principal and teacher there. He holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida. He has also undergone training in education leadership at Harvard and Yale universities. He is a United States Navy veteran. • Nakia Towns — currently deputy superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was previously assistant commissioner for data and research with the Tennessee Department of Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in business administration from Duke University, a second master’s in educational leadership from the Borad Center for the Management of School Systems in Los Angeles, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from Vanderbilt University. She underwent educational leadership training at Harvard University. She has also been a vice president at Wells Fargo & Company and Bank of America.
• James McIntyre Jr. — currently the director of the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Tennessee and an assistant professor. He was previously the superintendent of Knox County Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee, and chief operating officer, deputy chief financial officer and budget director of Boston Public Schools in Massachusetts. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Boston College, a master’s in education administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, a master’s in urban affairs from Boston University and a doctorate in public policy from the University of Massachusetts. He was an adjunct professor in education at Harvard University in 2006. In addition he has been a teacher and an admissions-financial aid counselor at Canisius College.
• Jennifer Cupid-McCoy — currently an area superintendent for nearby Orange County Public Schools. Previously, she was the chief of staff for the Clark County School System in Las Vegas, the nation’s fifth largest school district. She has also taught, been an assistant principal and principal in Orange County. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s in education from Cheyney University in Cheney, Pennsylvania, an education specialist degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida. She has also taken specialist courses at Harvard University.
• Frederick Heid — currently Superintendent of the Community Unit School District in Algonquin, Illinois. Previously, he was the chief academic officer for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville and a bureau chief for school improvement for Region 1 for the Florida Department of Education. He was a principal and assistant principal in Orange County and a teacher in Sarasota. He holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of South Florida, and is working on a doctorate in leadership in education administration at Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois.
Border and Towns received the most votes, with 31 apiece.
The panel then approved adding two more people to the list:
• Michael Ramirez — currently deputy superintendent of schools of Denver Public Schools. Previously, he was director of the office of school performance and accountability for Broward County Public Schools and served as a designee on the district’s recovery team responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the district’s recovery and commemoration efforts following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He also served as a principal and assistant principal in southwest Florida. He worked as an adjunct professor in the educational leadership department at Barry University for eight years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Southeastern University and a master’s in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
• Antoine Hickman — Currently the chief of student support initiatives and recovery for Broward County Public Schools, providing the strategic management and coordination of community resources for the nation’s sixth largest school district. Previously, he was executive director of exceptional student learning for special needs students, including during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. The gunman had been a special education student at the school and Hickman told the investigation committee that the young man did not receive services like he should have according to his individual education plan. Hickman has also been a principal, school special education liaison, counselor and teacher in Norfolk, and a mental health technician for Norfolk Community Hospital in Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in administrative systems management from Norfolk State University, a master’s in special education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and doctorate in educational policy, planning and leadership from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
While Ramirez and Hickman played roles in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting aftermath, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd did not advocate for either one of them Thursday. He served on a panel that investigated the causes and failures of the school system and law enforcement leading up to the shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead. Judd chose four out of the top five candidates without comment.
The panel will present the seven finalists to the School Board on Tuesday night. The board will then choose the applicants they want to interview in the next few weeks. Those interviews will take place in April. Byrd’s successor is scheduled to be selected at the April 27 board meeting. The contract terms include a start date of July 1, 2021, with a transition period beginning in May. The contract would be for three years, with a salary range of $215,000 to $275,000, plus competitive benefits.
Photo: The Ledger file photo.