Orlando Sentinel | by Leslie Postal | February 9, 2021
A divided Seminole County School Board on Tuesday picked a Lake County administrator as the next superintendent for its A-rated school district.
Chad Farnsworth was tapped for the top job in a 3-2 vote. He is an assistant superintendent for the Lake County school district and also served as superintendent, administrator and teacher in Bradford County in North Florida.
Farnsworth, 43, was one of two finalists to replace Superintendent Walt Griffin, who is retiring this spring. The other, Serita Beamon, is the school board’s attorney. The board interviewed both Monday, seeking a new leader for the 67,000-student school district.
Board members said both candidates were excellent and making a decision was difficult, but those who supported Farnsworth cited his experience in the classroom and leading another Florida school district.
“Great teaching is the heart of academic achievement, and I know we all truly believe that,” said board member Tina Calderone, who voted for Farnsworth.
She said Farnsworth’s recommendations were stellar, and she was impressed with the relationships he built with local colleges and community groups where he’d worked previously.
Board members Amy Pennock and Abby Sanchez also voted for Farnsworth while Chair Karen Almond and board member Kristine Kraus voted for Beamon.
During his interview Monday, Farnsworth described himself as a “true educator at heart” who happily keeps his Florida teaching certificate active.
“At the end of the day, it’s the teacher who makes the difference in the classroom, and everything else is just the tool,” he said.
Farnsworth said he views all decisions based on what is best for students.
“Our priority has to be a return on investment for programs that are working for our kids,” he said.
He also said meeting with teachers, principals, parents and other community leaders would be among his first steps. He said he is comfortable “shouldering big decisions” but also listens to others’ ideas.
Farnsworth said he was impressed with Seminole’s academic success and its varied academic programs and would work to “complement and enhance” what was already in place.
He also said helping students who traditionally lag academically, including minority students and those with disabilities, would be a focus as would helping all students who lost scholastic ground because of the pandemic.
“We just need to make sure we’re getting kids back to where they need to be as quick as possible,” he added.
Before the vote, Krause said she thought Beamon was the better choice given her deep familiarity with the Seminole school district, where she worked for 16 years. Beamon would have been the first woman and the first Black person to serve as Seminole’s superintendent.
“I believe this is our moment and this is a time where we need a steady hand,” Krause said.
The board interviewed both candidates for about 90 minutes Monday, asking each mostly the same questions in their separate sessions.
“I stayed up late last night writing pros and cons,” Sanchez said before the vote. “Both candidates were amazing. It was a long night.”
But she added, “At the end of the day, we’re doing what’s best for our county and our district.”
Farnsworth is now the assistant superintendent over human resources in Lake. He also served one four-year term as the elected superintendent in Bradford, the small school district where he spent most of his career, working as a teacher and administrator.
He did not win re-election in 2016 and the next year moved to Lake to take an administrative job with that school system.
Farnsworth, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a master’s from the University of North Florida, said “listening and learning” would be his first task once he takes over and that he would be eager to start visiting Seminole campuses.
“In a perfect world, every day would start at a school,” he said.
Farnsworth likely will start work in Seminole in March or April. The board had said it expected to offer its next superintendent a three-year contract, a salary of at least $165,000 to $195,000 and other benefits.
The board’s superintendent search committee received applications from 28 people, two of whom later withdrew. The committee recommended the board consider five, and from that group the board selected the two finalists it wanted to interview.
Photo: Chad Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent for the Lake County school district, was tapped Tuesday to be the next superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools. – Original Credit: Lake County Schools (Courtesy photo)