Residents described their ideal superintendent at the first of three community forums Wednesday.
Tampa Bay Times | By Marlene Sokol | February 24, 2022
The next superintendent of the Pinellas County Schools will need integrity and a commitment to providing students with a well-rounded education.
Drawing on assets that include a strong executive staff and a robust network of career academies, the district’s new leader will have to navigate lean budgets, new state teaching standards, and a world that has become frighteningly uncivil.
The group who gathered for Wednesday night’s community meeting at Pinellas Park High School, the first in a series to help select a replacement for the retiring Mike Grego, laid out these and other priorities.
“We need someone who has a commitment to educating the whole child, is committed to the value of the whole child,” said Maria Cantonis, an advocate for arts in education.
The district and its consulting team from the Florida School Boards Association offered multiple ways for members of the public to participate, including a satellite location at Oak Grove Middle School and Zoom links for those who wanted to take part from home.
“I really understand what teachers have to deal with,” said consulting team member Bill Vogel, noting the multiple platforms. “But all of you are nice people. And I don’t have to give you a test. And I don’t have to learn the (state) standards.”
Still, turnout was nowhere near the more than 100 who took part in last week’s employee sessions. The biggest source of feedback, by far, has been an online survey that mirrors the short list of questions asked at the community meetings.
So far, district leaders said, they have received close to 3,000 responses.
A second 6 p.m. community meeting is planned Thursday at Countryside High. A third will take place at St. Petersburg High on Monday, which is also the deadline to complete the online survey.
Chris Dunning and Kimberly Works were first to arrive at Pinellas Park. Dunning is principal of Wendell Krinn Technical High School in Pasco. Works is employed in the insurance industry and is running for a seat on the Pinellas County School Board.
Dunning said he is exploring the possibility of applying for the superintendent job. He has experience at all grade levels, he said, and his wife is a Pinellas native.
Works said she wants to learn about the superintendent search process in case she takes part in it one day.
They were joined by Cantonis and Glenn Gifford, who serves on a career education board.
In the area of strengths, Cantonis noted the strong support Pinellas residents have shown the schools through their approval every four years of a special property tax for teacher pay, arts instruction and other enhancements. “Pinellas is very blessed for having the referendum,” she said.
Works named exceptional student education as both a source of pride for the Pinellas district and a challenge to maintain. Gifford said the district needs a leader who understands budgets, has a sense of humor and is familiar with the community.
Summarizing the feedback from last week’s meetings, Vogel, the consultant, said employees seem proud of the district and what it has accomplished under Grego’s leadership.
They want stability, he said. They are apprehensive about the future because of challenges that affect all public school systems: workplace stress made worse by the pandemic, labor shortages at all levels, and the prospect of new standards.
Information from the surveys and meetings will be put to use when the School Board and consultants draft a job description. “We will get all of the information together and we will determine the qualities and qualifications,” Vogel said.
No decision has been made yet about whether to require a doctoral degree.
“But that is normally preferred,” Vogel said, and those at Wednesday’s meeting generally agreed.