Duval County Public Schools will have a new, permanent, superintendent by January.
The Duval County School Board briefly considered delaying the search to coincide with the end of the academic year in an attempt to attract more candidates. However, the consensus among them on Tuesday was to move forward with the timeline that’s already been communicated to the community.
Applications will open Friday, Sept. 15, and close Oct. 13.
Tuesday was the first time the full Board heard a summary of the input the Florida School Boards Association has received through its online survey and five community meetings. The district paid the association $35,000 to facilitate the superintendent search.
“We feel like, given the community forums we’ve had, and the overwhelming response from the community survey, that we have good information to keep on our timeline,” Board Chair Kelly Coker said.
In-person meetings and the online survey drew nearly 3,700 participants — a small number compared to the district’s nearly 100,000 full-time students — but larger than the response Orange County Public Schools received during its recent superintendent search, the association assured the Board.
Survey respondents were asked to identify the districts strengths. Among the responses, DCPS’ diversity (198 mentions), communication (74 mentions) and teachers (49 mentions) were the most repeated. Its magnet programs, school choice options and safety rounded out the list.
The district’s transportation woes (138 mentions) and teacher-retention and hiring challenges (roughly 150 mentions) were the most-cited challenges the district and next superintendent must tackle. Others listed more than 20 times were: funding, budget and teacher pay.
Information from a sixth meeting community that was held Tuesday evening at Sandalwood High School will be added at a later date.
Florida School Boards Association CEO Andrea Messina told the Board the responses made clear that Duval County residents “are looking for someone who has proven, demonstrative success in a large, urban district.”
Minimum qualifications are a master’s degree, 10 years of demonstrated experience as well as experience at the cabinet level in a district with more than 25,000 students.
Preferred qualifications include a doctorate, experience serving a large, diverse district similar to Duval, and experience in urban, suburban and rural settings.
During the discussion about whether to wait until the end of the school year to hire someone, Board member Cindy Pearson told her colleagues the time is right now.
“I’m a little concerned that we’re underselling ourselves,” Pearson said. “I feel this should be a plum job and a desirable job. The candidates who want this job should be willing to move heaven and earth to do this job. If it means breaking a contract, uprooting kids, if it means an accelerated timeline, I believe we are worth it.”
Board members Darryl Willie and Lori Hershey agreed.
The full Board will hold another workshop on Oct. 18, when it will identify semifinalists and submit questions for those candidates to answer.
The semifinalists, who will not be ranked, will submit their answers to Florida School Boards Association liaisons, and the board will receive the responses on Thursday, Oct. 26. A special Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 9:30 a.m. to choose the finalists.
The finalists will be in Jacksonville on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17 for interviews and conversations with the board, community and other stakeholders.
The board is targeting Tuesday, Nov. 21, during the week of Thanksgiving, to select the next superintendent.
Lori Hershey, one of two members who was on the Board when it hired Diana Greene after Nikolai Vitti’s 2017 resignation, said the board owes it to the community to see the process to its completion.
“We need to be confident in our district and see what applicants apply,” Hershey said.
Greene retired this summer before her contract was up amid a scandal involving allegations of teacher misconduct at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.