Treasure Coast Newspapers | By Olivia McKelvey | February 8, 2022
ST. LUCIE COUNTY— Jon Prince will be the school district’s next superintendent.
In a 4-1 vote Monday, the School Board selected Prince to succeed Wayne Gent, who announced his retirement less than three weeks ago. Jennifer Richardson cast the lone dissenting vote.
The decision comes 11 days after the board already signaled it was prepared to promote Prince, the deputy superintendent since 2015, without considering any other candidates.
Prince, 52, is expected to start July 1, after Gent’s June 30 retirement and a new contract is negotiated and approved.
Rather than hire a search consultant — as the district did for its past four superintendent searches in 1996, 2003, 2013 and in 2015, when Gent was hired — the board selected Prince Monday immediately after a community forum.
“Some of the board members and community members have expressed we should be doing a search, we should be conducting an interview,” Prince told the board. “I’d submit to you that I’ve been in a 6½-year interview, and I’ve delivered results.”
Ensuring students had devices for virtual learning and working with the teachers union on an agreement that allowed them to work from home during the pandemic were some “delivered results” Prince referred to.
A Fort Walton Beach native, Prince has been a teacher and principal in Palm Beach County schools. Before becoming deputy superintendent here, he was principal of Colonial High School in Orange County.
When he steps into his new role, addressing loss of learning and teacher burnout from the pandemic as well as paying employees more will be among his priorities, Prince said.
School Board Vice Chairman Troy Ingersoll reiterated Monday that a “quick” search was necessary because “there’s a season to education,” when people in leadership positions may start looking for jobs in March and April.
Most of the 15 people who spoke Monday — which included Sheriff Ken Mascara; former state Rep. Larry Lee; Christian Baca, chair of the St. Lucie Public Schools Youth Advisory Council; Chris Fogal, a member of the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council; and multiple principals within the district — endorsed Prince for superintendent.
“Dr. Prince emphasizes the importance of equity and learning opportunities for all students,” said Allapattah Flats K-8 School Principal Ana Rodriguez. “Not just students in some schools, or students in some academic zones or groups of programs, all students — including students with disabilities, students who speak English as a second language, students who struggle with discipline and students from different socioeconomic status …”
Others, however, worried the board’s rushed hiring process was not inclusive or transparent, and recommended a larger search that included more candidates.
“This has nothing to do with Dr. Prince. I’ve worked with him when I was a teacher. I can say a whole lot of excellent things about him, but the process should be fair,” said St. Lucie County NAACP President Aisha Nash. “It should be equitable and we should be able to have some type of input.”
Echoing Nash, Richardson voiced dissatisfaction with the way Prince was selected.
“Our community is growing and diversifying, and this process does not and did not allow for any minority candidates to come forward to tell us what they can do for the school district,” she said.
And while all board members acknowledged the hiring process could have been done differently — one admitting they may have “jumped the gun,” and others stating they could at least have included an internal search — the majority of board members stuck by their decision that Prince should be the next superintendent.
“We give one-year contracts,” Chairwoman Donna Mills said. “If that contract is not up to par and we don’t feel like he’s meeting that contract, we can always decide to get a different superintendent.”
Gent, 67, earns $204,063 annually overseeing 39 schools here with more than 39,000 students, according to the district. His retirement ends his 45 years of working in Florida’s public-education system.
Prince currently earns $152,621.
“I cannot be Mr. Gent … but I can be the best version of myself everyday,” Prince said. “And I will promise you my commitment is to make sure that every decision that we make as a system is about children.”