New St. Johns County school superintendent outlines priorities

Tim Forson chosen to replace retiring superintendent Joseph Joyner

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Former deputy superintendent Tim Forson was selected Tuesday as the next superintendent of schools for St. Johns County. The school board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint Forson and planned to begin contract negotiations immediately.

Forson appeared Wednesday on The Morning Show and outlined his priorities as superintendent. It was his first interview since being appointed.

He said he has two main priorities.

"The first goal is make sure we keep those high expectations for our kids," Forson said.  "And making sure we are highly successful."

Growth is a major issue the school district has dealt with in recent years. Forson said that would be his second main area of concern.

"At the foremost of a lot of our thinking is dealing with growth and dealing with the fact we seem to add schools each and every year, and we add employees," he said. "So our system is a very dynamic organization as we grow each and every year."

Forson also outlined how he'd plan to keep up with, and adjust to, the district's growth. 

"We see as many as 1,000 to 1,500 students each year," said Forson. "So we have to plan out three to five years ahead as far as financing, and moving ahead with dollars available to build schools, or add to schools."

Part of the new superintendent's plan would also involve closely monitoring any growth to make sure the district responds correctly. Forson also mentioned he would be willing to use resources like portables and relocatables to adjust to any rapid growth.

He said he sees growth as an opportunity.

"You bring in new folks every year. New students, new leaders, new teachers and support staff, new families come into the district," Forson said. "So new ideas walk into our building each and every year."

The process that eventually led to Forson's selection started when longtime Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner announced plans to retire earlier this year.

“This is hard for me; it was 14 years of my life,” Joyner said. “I love this place. I love it dearly.”

A months-long process that was made even longer by Hurricane Matthew selected Forson and Dr. Vickie Cartwright as finalists and introduced them to the community last week for a last round of input.

Board members praised both candidates and said the decision was much more difficult than the vote indicated.

“With Tim it became very obvious that he had the expertise,” School Board member Bill Mignon said. “Not only does he have expertise but he has passion for the system. He loves the system. He's been a lifelong resident of St. Johns County. He went to our schools, has been an administrator, a teacher. He just brings expertise. Yet he's not close-minded, he's open minded.”

Several members noted that the decision was difficult because the district faces special challenges of rapid growth and expectations to maintain its status as the state's top-ranked school district.

“We don't need a change agent right now. We are doing things well,” board member Beverly Slough said. “We need somebody that will keep us steady to the course and help us to grow."

Cartwright is 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 experience base that he has, especially with all of the things like controlled open enrollment coming at us, it will be very beneficial to have someone familiar with our community and familiar with our district,” Slough said.

Board members said that if the vote had been taken based on community support, Forson would have won on the first day. Joyner said that support is a huge benefit.

“What distinguishes St. Johns County is this is a community that supports its public school system,” Joyner said. “I think that if not the most essential thing, it's critical. Mr. Forson has nurtured that throughout his career.”

The district tentatively hopes to approve a contract with Forson on either Nov. 22 or Dec. 13.