MANATEE -- Four women topped the Citizens Advisory Group's list of five finalists to present to the Manatee County School Board to be the next superintendent.
Former Lee County Chief Academic Officer Constance Jones; former Marion County Deputy Superintendent Diana Greene; and Interim Commissioner of Education Pamela Stewart once again made the top five, with Jones topping the list this week.
Joining them were former chief academic officer for Duval County, Kathryn LeRoy; and Minneapolis Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Rick Mills.
Former Indian River County Superintendent Harry LaCava and former superintendent of Clayton County, Ga., schools Edmond Heatley, who made the top five when the board narrowed 28 total applicants to 10 last week, received some of the smallest number of votes Tuesday.
The group came to a clear consensus on their finalists Tuesday evening, after each member voted for up to five candidates.
Jones came out on top after group members reported on her reputation for consensus-building and community involvement from sources they talked to this week. Jones has been a finalist in superintendent searches in Broward, Pinellas and Lee counties.
Former Sarasota Assistant Superintendent Hal Nelson said some questions arose concerning her leadership techniques in his subcommittee.
"What was described as a low-key management style made the group question whether that fire was there." Nelson said Tuesday.
But most agreed that she was worth looking into.
"I want to assure everyone that there were strong references," said Terry Osborn, of USF Sarasota-Manatee. "What we learned is that her style is not forceful -- she's a consensus builder."
Minneapolis Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Rick Mills, with 30 years of experience in military administration, surprised some by emerging as a prime contender.
"I was prepared not to like this candidate," said Manatee Education Association Pat Barber, who worried he might be a top-down administrator. "But I've heard he's very collaborative. He put in place good problem-solving processes."
Mills also caught the attention of former school board candidate Linda Schaich, who vetted Mills along with Lakewood Ranch Business Community representative Jane Grace.
"He implemented a teacher evaluation system two years before the state mandated it," Schaich said. "The people I talked to were most impressed by the team structure that he set up. They felt that if he left, they would not take a step backward because the teams could work without him."
LeRoy was cited for her experience with finance and overwhelmingly positive recommendations. She was a semi-finalist in the Duval County superintendent search in 2012.
"She managed large budgets. She worked with turnaround schools. She worked with magnet programs," Barber said. "The impression I got was that she most likely would have been superintendent if the district hadn't been looking for an outsider."
Greene and Stewart, who formerly worked together in Marion County and were references for each other's applications, once again impressed the group. But some questioned whether Stewart's relationship and experience with the Department of Education would affect her decision-making.
Osborn said he'd called deans of several universities who provided positive recommendations for Stewart.
"She seems to me to be sort of a statewide star," Osborn said.
The group meets with Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton on Jan. 30 to finalize the list, and will present five finalists to the school board at a special meeting at 9 a.m. Jan. 31 in the district administration building.
Here were the top five vote-getters:
n Constance Jones, 20 votes.
n Kathryn LeRoy, 17 votes.
n Diana Greene, 16 votes.
n Rick Mills, 16 votes.
n Pam Stewart, 12 votes.
John Carvelli, of Palm Beach County, received five votes. Applicants Carey Wright, Harry LaCava and Edmond Heatley each received one. Applicant Steven Cobb received no votes.
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.