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Alachua County High School Students Discuss New Superintendent Search

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Twelve high school students discussed the search for a new superintendent with the Alachua County Public School Board at a forum Tuesday morning.

Student government leaders from Eastside High School, Gainesville High School, Buchholz High School, Loften High School, Hawthorne High School and Santa Fe High School all agreed the new superintendent should encompass integrity, professionalism and respect.

The school board is accepting applications for the position through March 10 and will hopefully hire someone by July 1, said Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools.

Johnson said, more than 230 people have given their input on the vacant position in three recent community forums as well as through online surveys.

“It’s probably one of the most important decisions we’re going to make, so we’ve been gathering a lot of public input in the last month or so,” Johnson said.

Last June, former superintendent Owen Roberts resigned in part due to board members’ lack of confidence in his performance, Johnson said. Since then, Sandy Hollinger has acted as interim superintendent and will continue to do so until someone is hired.

At the forum Tuesday, junior and senior student representatives told board members what issues will be most challenging for the incoming superintendent.

“Students are the ones who are going to be most affected by whatever decision the school board makes,” Johnson said.

Hawthorne High School student body president Tre Mann told board members that he would like to see the superintendent bring more programs to his school. The addition of a culinary program, for example, could be an improvement, he said.

Mann, 19, has developed relationships and encouraged classmates to get involved through his two-year term as president. He believes the new superintendent should do the same.

“To be a good leader, you’ve got to interact with the children, and visit the schools more,” Mann said.

Other issues addressed by students included improving facilities, possibly building a new high school, hiring quality teachers and expanding vocational programs.

Interim Superintendent Hollinger said a lot of the students’ requests aligned with what their parents have discussed at recent forums.

“What they’re talking about is absolutely right on the mark,” Hollinger said. “The new superintendent needs to realize it’s a good school system, and every year we want to get better and improve certain areas.”

Hollinger said, it is essential for the new superintendent to listen to principals, teachers, parents and students alike.

At the end of the meeting, the students requests were compiled into a report that will be examined by the board while deciding whom to hire. Once a new superintendent is chosen, they will be given a copy of the report.

“Students, particularly juniors and seniors, are really smart and thoughtful people,” Hollinger said. “They’re in it day in and day out, so it would be foolish to not consider student expertise.”

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