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St. Johns County superintendent search down to 2 finalists

Dr. Vickie Cartwright, Tim Forson explain why they believe they're fit for job

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Maintaining the standard of excellence is the goal for the St. Johns County -- the state's top-rated school district -- as it moves one step closer to selecting a new superintendent.

Dr. Joseph Joyner, the current superintendent, will be retiring and the St. Johns County School District has whittled down their search to two candidates: Dr. Vickie Cartwright and Tim Forson.

Cartwright is currently the senior executive director for Exceptional Student Education for Orange County Public Schools.

Forson recently retired as deputy superintendent of operations for the St. Johns County School District.

The two finalists were asked a series of questions by the school board Tuesday night. Parents, teachers and other members of the community also had the opportunity to meet the candidates and hear why they believe they are fit for the job and how they envision getting it done.

Both candidates agreed that growth is the biggest challenge in the district -- how to handle the current debt but also accommodate new students. They said the half-cent sales tax helps, but it's just the beginning of a long process. 

Denver Cook, a parent of two children who attend schools in the district, said he likes Forson because he's local and has a good grasp on the area. And while he doesn't know Cartwright well, Cook said, she brings in a good educational background. 

But he said filling Joyner's shoes will be difficult for either candidate.

"We've got a little over 86 percent graduation rates. Making it 100 -- that's the hardest step," Cook said, "Who's going to do that, and how are they going to accomplish that side of it, as well as figure out how to get out of school debt and get the schools built so we have the capacity we need in the county."

Both finalists said they are ready to take on the challenge, but both seemed to agree that the students will be the driving force behind decisions made. 

"It's easy to make decisions based on the facts and numbers but the impact is children. We're all adults but the folks that will be impacted the most are the children in the system," Forson said. 

Cartwright said, "I understand the power of the family and working to support the student, to promote the student forward and encourage the student to have that resiliency."

Sally Cunningham, a St. Johns County teacher, said she's impressed by both Cartwright and Forson. She said she believes they did their homework and are both qualified for the job. 

"As a teacher, I was glad to hear a lot of the comments I heard tonight, focusing on teachers and students primarily, and then putting that business aspect, the reality in there as well. The calibration is important to me," Cunningham said. "I'm also chief negotiator for the teachers union, so the work and relationship with the school board and the superintendent is huge."

There will be several private interviews between the candidates and the school board. There will also be a public meeting Thursday when the school board will discuss all the information it has gathered.

According to the district schedule, the School Board will then select the new superintendent on Tuesday November 8th at a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. to begin contract negotiations.

Tentatively, the district will approve the contract on either Nov. 22 or Dec. 13.