Big challenges ahead for Diana Greene, quickly named Manatee County school superintendent

Diana Greene received the strongest vote of confidence imaginable, not just in the unanimous school board decision Tuesday to select her as superintendent but also from many members of the community who rose up in her support.

Thus, the board forgoes a lengthy national search, one that would have put Greene in an awkward position. She'd already expressed hesitation about applying for the job given that four board members originally leaned toward a candidate search.

She will assume the helm in the wake of former Superintendent Rick Mills' sudden departure after a rocky tenure that created divisions within the community.

As the current deputy superintendent of instruction, Greene's education and leadership credentials are so strong the school board did not need to look for other candidates.

And the board could ill afford to lose Greene to another district as her considerable talents and career goals would be highly desirable elsewhere. She'd already applied to two other school districts searching for new superintendents.

The board deserves credit -- and the community's thanks -- for acting swiftly. New board member Charlie Kennedy made the motion, and the four in favor of a search followed his lead.

Her response to the board's 5-0 vote reflects her warm personality: "I was not expecting this. I'm feeling every positive emotion possible."

A promotion on merit

This is a well-deserved promotion.

With a doctorate in Advanced K-12 education, Greene's more than three decades in the field include experience in senior executive leadership, curriculum development and school administration. She also served as a teacher, giving her valuable classroom experience.

Since her hiring by Mills in April 2013, Greene has led schools to improvements in student test scores, and those academic advances inspired Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to praise the Manatee County school district last summer.

Still, the board should ensure the community that due diligence and vetting have been performed, even only if to confirm without any doubt that Greene will be a great fit here.

By only offering Greene a one-year contract, the board allows her to prove her skill set merits a more permanent status while addressing some community hesitation about the sudden hiring. Plus, the board will have time to survey community stakeholders about district issues, which would provide Greene with a road map for future goals. Both are reasonable approaches.

While Mills solved the short-term financial mess and budget deficit left by the previous administration, long-term fiscal stability and accountability will be one of Greene's major challenges.

A unified school board is essential to that effort, a rarity under Mills with even worse prospects after the November election. Unity is the panel's challenge.

Upon Mills's accelerated retirement in mid-May, the board installed Don Hall, the deputy superintendent of operations, as interim superintendent. At that time, Hall expressed support for Greene as the permanent superintendent, inspiring immediate applause in the auditorium. He also stated his desire to remain in Manatee County and continue as operations chief.

Kudos to Don Hall for his grace and dignity.

Mills came to Manatee County as an outsider in March 2013. His top contender for superintendent was Greene, and he hired her within a month.

Greene holds an advantage of two years with the school district, witnessing first-hand the divisions within the community.

With that experience, she's saying the right things about the future: "I'm going to spend a lot of time ensuring our community, our schools know that we're here to start the healing process and in doing that, start to move forward."

She will need community and board support. We have high hopes Diana Greene will prove up to the many challenges ahead.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald