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Four candidates left for school superintendent

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of March 12, 2015)

The number of finalists still under consideration for the job of Indian River County school superintendent to succeed the retiring Fran Adams dropped to four this week when Frank Rodriguez, probably the most professionally qualified finalist from Palm Beach County, pulled out.

The remaining four include three outsiders from other Florida school districts, David Christiansen, chief academic officer of Lake County Schools, and two candidates from neighboring St. Lucie County, although one school board member said he didn’t think much of the St. Lucie school district.

The fourth candidate, Bruce Green, is already with the local school system as assistant superintendent of technology, and had been recommended by Adams to become her successor.

He had not been picked as a finalist by a team of consultants hired to narrow the field of 69 candidates to a final eight because he’s never been a principal and lacks academic credentials, but at a public meeting last week, the school board voted 3-2 to put Green’s name on the finalist list anyway.

School board members Charles Searcy, Shawn Frost and Dale Simchick, who were all elected last fall as Republicans (although Simchik had been appointed earlier by Gov. Rick Scott to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term) and ran on conservative values platforms advocating increased local control over schools, voted to override the consultants’ recommendations and put Green’s name among the finalists.

School board members Claudia Jimenez and Matt McCain, the chairman, both holdovers who’ve been on the board the longest, did not concur with the other three that Green should be a finalist.

“Bruce Green is a leader who is full of energy and very entrepreneurial,” said Searcy, who asked that Green be put on the finalist roster, even though consultant Wayne Blanton said Green hadn’t made the cut “because in my opinion he is a few years away from getting the broader experience needed for being a superintendent. His qualifications are not yet on the same level as those on our list.”

Even though Green did not have a doctorate and had not been a principal like the others, Simchick said she supported him to be a finalist because of his “charisma, community involvement and roots as a fourth-generation resident of the county.” Frost also backed his inclusion, saying Green was “dynamic” and had “deep roots here.”

Jimenez, who had pleaded in vain for the inclusion of two “very dynamic and outstanding” candidates from out of state, agreed Green had charisma and potential, but asked: “Are we ready to take the risk with him right now?” Chairman McCain agreed, saying he thought “the world of Bruce” but could not overlook the fact that his “resume is not like everyone else” on the finalist list.

Despite the fact that Green got three votes to be included among the finalists, one of those who voted for his inclusion, Simchick, said her first choice was actually Mark Rendell, one of the two St. Lucie candidates along with Helen Wild. At present Rendell is deputy superintendent and Wild is assistant superintendent in St. Lucie County.

Searcy appeared to favor the local man, Green, and be wary of anyone the teachers’ unions liked.

“One thing is for sure,” said Searcy. “I don’t want a wimp.” Searcy also questioned the inclusion of the two St. Lucie candidates, saying “it isn’t a real high-caliber district.”

Consultant Blanton, however, said Rendell was “focused, intelligent and always self-confident,” and noted that sexual harassment charges against him had been “fully dismissed as false accusations.”

Wild, whom the consultants described as a former guidance counselor and “leader in innovative technology as well as a good high school principal,” also taught school management at Florida Atlantic University.

St. Lucie County teacher union representative Vicki Rodriguez said after the meeting that Wild is “a master at working with people and managing competing interests and will be very good wherever she goes.” 

Finalist Christiansen, said the consulting team, “has integrity, strong communication skills and is very strong in curriculum. He is very much a change agent and probably wouldn’t be a favorite for those who don’t like change.”

Next week, the remaining four finalists will participate in public interviews. Then, the school board will narrow the field to two finalists and finally choose one. “We should know who our new superintendent is before the end of March,” said McCain.