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Search drawing to a close

By Staff | May 13, 2011

A community reception held Thursday night at the Lee County Public Education Center attracted a room full of district employees and area residents who wanted to meet the top four superintendent candidates and ask their own questions.
The candidates met the Lee County School Board at the Veranda in downtown Fort Myers Wednesday night during a welcome dinner before private interviews began Thursday morning with each school board member. An educational and familiarization tour of Lee County was also provided for the candidates Thursday afternoon.
Board member Don Armstrong said he thought the interviews went well Thursday because he had the opportunity to grill the candidates on their strengths and weaknesses. He said the 40 to 45-minute interview gave him the chance to look for the candidates’ character because he already knew their accomplishments.
“All in all, I believe there was one gentleman that stuck out more than the rest,” he said. “He could do the job, but that is the problem, I think, but I want to be certain. Not one of them stood out that I’m 100 percent comfortable with.”
Armstrong said he wants to make sure the person he chooses is the right person for Lee County because it is a huge job.
Board member Mary Fischer, on the other hand, said that there was one candidate that stood out to her. She said she enjoyed the interview process Thursday because it gave her the opportunity to get up close and personal with each candidate and observe their body language and facial expressions after she asked a question.
Fischer said she was excited about the continued interviews on Friday. The candidates had to do a mock board presentation, experienced based interview, writing prompt and a full school board interview.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a really big day,” Fischer said Thursday of the Friday session. “I know they are going to stand up to it because they were all well prepared.”
Steven Cobb, the chief academic officer of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana, is one of the top four finalist vying for the job.
The district he currently works for serves 31,568 students at 51 schools. The Fort Wayne Community School District employees 4,265 individuals, 2,052 which are teachers.
Cobb said Thursday’s interviews went wonderfully.
“I thought it went really well,” Cobb said. He said he enjoyed talking to the five board members on a one-on-one basis, along with learning what the community wants. Upon that list of issues was school choice, the school budget and transportation.
He said he also thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Lee County. He said he would have enjoyed adding another hour and a half to the two-hour tour so he could see more of the district.
Cobb said he would bring a great deal of common sense to the district if he is chosen for the position, along with open communication, honesty and decision making skills.
He said it is all about the kids.
“No matter what happens it’s about how it impacts students in schools,” Cobb said.
He shared that he is not someone who sits at his desk, but rather he enjoys making his rounds to the schools to visit with teachers and principals and participate in the various activities held for the students.
Joseph Burke, superintendent of Monroe County Schools in Key West, is another finalist for the superintendent position. He was appointed to his current post in August 2009 by the governor of Florida. There are 8,312 students enrolled in 20 schools with 1,226 staff members in the Monroe County School district.
Burke said he thought that the Thursday interviews went well. He also enjoyed the individual conversations he had with the senior staff.
“I am delighted to be here and have the opportunity,” he said.
Burke said he wanted to apply for the superintendent position in Lee County because he has always read good things that are happening in education for the district.
“For a while it was the fastest growing district,” he said.
Burke wants to work in a big district as his last stop before retirement because it will be a nice challenge.
Naples High School Principal Nancy Graham of four years was also chosen as one of the top four finalist for the superintendent position.
Although she currently works in Collier County, more than 20 years of her career was spent in the Lee County School District.
“I’m feeling great,” Graham said about the interviews Thursday. “I am having a fun day.”
She said she enjoyed the interview process because it was all about having conversations with the board members and listening to what is important to them.
They are “five really committed board members,” Graham said, adding that it was nice to hold conversations with them because they focused on what should be done to make sure the students are being taken care of.
Friday’s activities, Graham said, will be a whole different dynamic because she will have to create a presentation and participate in a writing prompt, along with more interviews with the superintendent search citizens committee.
Another finalist, Lee County School District Chief Academic Officer Constance Jones, who has been in the district since 2003, said she thought the interviews on Thursday went extremely well.
“It is a great way to start the process,” she said about the one-on-one conversations she had with each board member.
Jones said she also loved the format of Thursday night’s community reception because it provided her with the opportunity to talk to the public. She said she was also looking forward to Friday’s interview process.
“It is one more opportunity to share my vision and try to help people feel confident that I am the right person for the job,” Jones said.
If chosen as the next superintendent, she said she will look into the areas that need improvement and tackle it with dignity in a respectful way that will move the district forward.
The superintendent search began in December after the school board decided to use the services of Florida School Board Association to find a new superintendent through a national search.
The search went live in February with the first job posting, which accumulated 43 applications from both in-state and out-of-state candidates, by the April 1 deadline.
On May 17, the board members will hold a workshop to determine who their top choice will be to fill the position, with a tentative hire date of June 1, so he/she could start on July 1 to be a part of next year’s budget process.