Diana Greene sworn in as interim Manatee County School District superintendent, thanks board for 'courageous act'

BRADENTON -- The past month in the Greene household has been a roller-coaster of emotions, as Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction for Manatee County Schools, and her husband, James, waited to see how the Manatee County School Board would replace retiring Superintendent Rick Mills.

When the board didn't appoint Greene outright at a meeting two weeks ago, instead putting Deputy Superintendent of Operations Don Hall into the interim position, it was stressful, James Greene admits. Now, after Diana Greene was sworn in Wednesday as interim superintendent with a one-year contract being drafted, her husband is relieved.

"I know she can do it," he said. "She just wanted the opportunity to prove herself. She'll do a great job for Manatee County."

With Greene, 51, sworn in as the Manatee County School District interim superintendent, she and board attorney Jim Dye will begin negotiating a superintendent contract for one year so the school board has time to survey the community to help determine district directions and whether a national superintendent search is necessary.

Greene completed the oath of office with Judge Thomas Gallen Jr. presiding. She then spoke to an auditorium full of supporters, calling the board's decision "courageous." The district must honor the leadership that has come in the past, Greene said, but also must learn from previous mistakes and move forward.

"We must respect the position," she said. "We are human and we all make mistakes. We learn from the mistakes."

Greene said being superintendent is about the 48,000 children in the community. Greene talked about a mother of a high school student who came to her in tears about six months ago, worried her daughter would not graduate. Greene put the mother in touch with a number of community members and organizations who could provide help.

That student will walk across the stage this week at graduation along with 2,300 other seniors.

"That's what it's about," Greene said.

It's the second swearing-in ceremony for an interim superintendent in just two weeks, as the board originally put Hall into the interim position after releasing Mills. Since Mills left, a wide swath of the community has come forward to support hiring Greene as the superintendent, although some school board members wanted to launch a search.

On Tuesday night, board member Charlie Kennedy made a motion to approve giving Greene the one-year contract as superintendent, starting June 1, with the condition the district will complete a climate survey within the next three months. Kennedy said the one-year contract will allow Greene to step out of Mills' shadow, establish herself and help keep the district moving forward.

It also gives the board more time to hear from the stakeholders through an anonymous survey. The survey, among other things, will check with stakeholders about the current status of the district and potential changes people may want. On Tuesday, the board committed to having the climate survey completed within three months.

If the community is happy, Greene's contract could be extended.

As soon as her one-year contract is completed and approved by the board, Greene will officially become superintendent. Kennedy's motion made clear that would happen by June 1 or be retroactive to June 1, depending on contract negotiations.

Greene, who had not been expecting the board's decision on Tuesday, said it's important for the district to heal and move forward.

Greene will be the first black superintendent leading the Manatee school district. Jessie Miller, for whom Miller Elementary School is named, was the district's first female superintendent. Greene said she is the second black female school superintendent in the state of Florida, with Barbara Jenkins, in Orange County, being the first.

But that will not define how she governs, Greene stressed.

"I want them to judge my character and what I'm doing for students," she said.

Greene said her first priorities are to meet individually with the board members, to start the healing process for the district and to work on moving forward.

As for her one-year contract?

Greene said she isn't too concerned, since she's always worked on one-year contracts, always having to prove herself to be renewed another year.

"It's what I've been doing my entire career," she said.

With the ceremony complete, Hall has returned to his position as deputy superintendent for operations and will revert to his salary for that job. Hall said he and Greene have worked as partners for the last two years, and he anticipates that will be the case for the next few years down the road.

"It all worked out the way it was supposed to," Hall told former school board member Julie Aranibar, who was voted out of office last November, losing to Mary Cantrell. Wednesday was the first time Aranibar has been back to district headquarters, she said.

"I was very proud last night to be a Manatee County resident," Aranibar said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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