MANATEE -- Superintendent Rick Mills has hired the new executive director of middle schools and the executive director of high schools, key members in his reorganization plan for the troubled school district.
And interviews for the seven new senior district staff positions, including budget director and executive director of human resources, will soon be underway. The district has also reposted the executive director of elementary schools position.
Pending approval by the Manatee school board Monday, Mary Murray of Collier County is the new director of high schools, and Cynthia Saunders of Marion County is the new executive director of middle schools. They will start July 1. Each will receive an annual salary of about $115,000.
Deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene said Murray and Saunders have valuable experience in working with turnaround schools.
"They have what we need to provide leadership to move the district forward," Greene said.
Murray is the principal of Imokallee High School -- a rural, poor high school in Collier Murray led off the state watch list of struggling schools. Like many schools in Manatee County, Imokallee High School has a high free- and reduced-lunch population.
Murray said for Manatee high schools to be successful, school officials will have to take a real, honest look at where they are now and how they got to that point.
"I will take time to look closely at school performances," Murray said. "We will look at what's going well, as well as what isn't working and create a plan for each school to make sure we are moving forward in the district as a whole."
Murray said she hopes to move high schools to higher levels while maintaining the individuality of each one.
"We need to support their needs and keep the traditions of the school," Murray said. "Each school is grounded in their own tradition and has pride. We will keep what's good and tweak what needs attention."
Saunders has experience as a turnaround principal of Lake Weir High School in Marion. Saunders took the "D" high school to an "A-B" school. Saunders also implemented the school's international baccalaureate program. Saunders has also worked as a trainer in Dade County for starting data teams in schools, something that Mills wants to see happen in Manatee County.
"They are accomplished in turning around schools that have had high diversity," Greene said. "We are looking for the same for our executive director of elementary schools."
Saunders said when she arrives in Manatee County, her vision is to be part of an administrative team.
"We have work to do, and we are in a little bit of a transition," Saunders said. "But our goal is student achievement. They are our clients."
The school district hopes to hire the executive director of elementary schools by the end of July.
"The superintendent has a vision to redesign our organization, and part of that redesign is having these positions," Greene said. "Other applicants had success, but we were looking for something more extensive. We have to have a high-powered team to make the school district better."
Mills and Greene have mentioned the possibility of eventually having two directors for the 34 Manatee County elementary schools. Greene said she will work more with the executive director of elementary schools to give additional support.
Bob Gagnon, former assistant superintendent of instruction now employed as assistant superintendent on assignment, will also help the executive director of elementary schools, Greene said.
Applications for director of communications and family and community engagement have closed. Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, said the district will start reviewing those applications within the next week and fill positions by the end of July. More than 40 applied for the positions, which will pay between $72,064 and $104,248 a year.
"It is exciting to see that many people wanting to work in the school district," Hall said.
Applications for executive director of human resources, chief information officer and budget director will close Tuesday. The district will set up interview dates with candidates and use a committee to help sort through them.
"It is a multi-stakeholder approach," Hall said.
The screening committee will include one school-based person, such as a principal, someone from the instructional side of the district, such as Greene or one of Greene's direct reports, and transition team members.
"There is only one school board meeting in July; a lot hinges around that date," Hall said. "We are trying to accomplish as much as we can."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081