Alachua County Public Schools continued its search for a new superintendent on Monday with the first of three community forums, seeking input on what the School Board’s search should focus on.
The board began it’s search for a new superintendent in October when it voted to pay the Florida School Boards Association, Inc. $25,000 for its help conducting the search.
Interim Superintendent Sandy Hollinger, a former Alachua County deputy superintendent, was appointed in June after former superintendent Owen Roberts resigned amid allegations of plagiarisms. Hollinger’s contract is only for one year, ending in the summer of 2017.
The three community input forums are part of the board’s search timeline, which also included an online survey to gather feedback while the application is open.
Monday’s community forum, led by Florida School Boards Association consultant, Bill Vogel, centered around one question — what characteristics the community would like to see from a new superintendent.
“We’re looking for a magician. Perhaps a wizard,” joked Buchholz High School Principal Mike DeLucas.
The community members gathered at Gainesville High School chose a total of 16 characteristics that they then ranked by importance. Characteristics desired in a new superintendent included “educator”, “experience as a school administrator,” and “understands school finance and has a long range plan for sustaining programs.”
“In Florida, that’s a big challenge,” Vogel said. “Budgets are very tight and finance understanding is important.”
John Bailey, a social studies teacher at Buchholz High School, said Alachua County schools need money for new facilities.
“The next superintendent needs to heal some of the problems that have come up in the last year or so,” Bailey said. “Really inspire everybody to work together to make Alachua County as a whole a better educational system.”
Racial divides in the community were also significant to some.
Barbara McDade-Gordon, associate professor of geography at the University of Florida, said that a new superintendent would have to deal with a district divided along more than just racial lines. Schools are so divided in achievement, at times it seems like there’s two different schools, McDade-Gordon said.
“We have this wonderful school system, excellent centers of education, great students,” McDade-Gordon said. “But we also have many students that are being left out of that. You cannot have a community—a public school system—that only addresses a part of the schools.”
The board will hold two more community input forums on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at Santa Fe High School and at Eastside High School on Jan. 23 at 6:00 p.m.
The application for the position closes March 10. The School Board will then move through a process of selecting and interviewing finalists before appointing the new superintendent on May 16. If selected on time, the new superintendent will begin July 1, in time to prepare for the 2017-2018 school year.