Panel vets diverse group of Manatee schools superintendent candidates

kbergen@bradenton.comJanuary 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- The most controversial decision associated with a Citizen Advisory Group's most popular applicant for Manatee County Schools superintendent -- Diana Greene of Ocala -- involved restructuring an elementary school and replacing its administration in the process, said a Marion County board member Wednesday.

The board and the superintendent backed her at the time, said Marion County School Board Chairman Ron Crawford, who now admits that the decision may have been overzealous.

"But she has the guts to make those kinds of decisions," Crawford said. "Diana Greene is a very honest woman."

This week, more than 20 members of the school board-commissioned Citizens Advisory Group, will vet a group of 10 candidates they have chosen from a total of 28. They will present five finalists to the school board Jan. 31. The top two choices both cut their teeth in Marion County, a district serving 42,000 students and 6,000 employees, similar in size to Manatee County.

Greene was deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction for nine years until this November, when the man she lost to in an election for superintendent moved her to a principal position. Joe Callahan, who writes about the school district for the Ocala Star Banner, said he had no reason to believe the move was anything but political.

"She was a go-to person, involved," Callahan said.

Crawford has worked with Greene for 14 years, and remembers in 2000 recommending Greene, a principal at the time, for a position in administration.

"Her strong suit is the curriculum end," Crawford said. "But she's been part of an administration that for 10 years really brought us a balanced budget."

Crawford also knows another prime candidate, Interim Commissioner of Education Pamela Stewart, who once worked as a teacher and administrator in Marion County.

"Great choice there," Crawford said. "And what a Rolodex. She wouldn't ever have to ask who to call at the Department of Education."

The Tampa Bay Times reports that incoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett has asked her to stay, but she reportedly wants to pursue the superintendent position in Manatee County.

Here are other candidates the search group is vetting, in order of greatest votes to least.

n Constance Jones. Jones is the Chief Academic Officer for Lee County, and was a finalist for their own superintendent search in 2011, as well as the Pinellas County superintendent search.

n Harry LaCava: LaCava served as Indian River County Superintendent from 2007-2011. LaCava's replaced an interim once before -- he took over in 2007 after the school board fired their superintendent, according to reports.

The TC Palm, the website of the Vero Beach Press-Journal, reported that LaCava did not want to retire in 2011, but had been enrolled in the DROP retirement program upon being hired and had to retire at that time. Previously, he had served 28 years in the Broward County school district, including as area superintendent.

n Edmond Heatley: Heatley, former superintendent of Clayton County, Ga., schools, points out in his application that he reduced expenditures over 3 years by $142 million without eliminating instructional programs. Heatley abruptly resigned from his position in 2012 to take a superintendent position in California, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. But he later pulled his application, even though he was the final candidate. The paper reports that his financial management was sometimes questioned. He balanced the budget and helped the district regain accreditation, but came under fire for cutting some sports programs.

n Rick Mills: Mills, the chief executive officer of Minneapolis public schools, has also worked in similar capacities in Chicago. His current district serves 34,000 students. But Mills hasn't worked in public education for long. Before 2009, he spent more than 30 years as the executive director, professor or advisor for various military schools and programs.

n Kathryn LeRoy: LeRoy, former chief academic officer for Duval County, was a semifinalist for the county's superintendent position in 2012, but the school board questioned her "interpersonal skills," according to the Florida Times-Union. This December, she became director of high school programs.

n Carey Wright: The chief academic officer for the District of Columbia public schools supervises a $110 million budget and has worked in the District since 2009. She was a finalist in the search for the Omaha, Neb., school superintendent position.

School officials there were most curious about Wright's working relationship with Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia public schools chancellor who was known for education reform that included eliminating tenure, promoting merit pay and anti-union measures, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

n Steven Cobb: Cobb is the current chief academic officer for Fort Wayne, Ind., Community Schools, and was a finalist in the Lee County schools superintendent search. He's been in education for 32 years, serving as an assistant superintendent, principal and teacher.

n John Carvelli: Carvelli has served on the St. Lucie County school board, including as chairman and vice chairman, for 16 years. He is currently the principal of Pierce Hammock Elementary School in Palm Beach County. The school is graded an "A."

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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