School Board picks 6 semifinalists for Duval County superintendent

Board narrows pool from 26 as selection process moves forward

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Duval County School Board narrowed a pool of 26 potential superintendent candidates down to six semifinalists on Monday, taking a major step forward in the process of selecting the next leader of Duval County Public Schools.

The top six candidates, who are from around the country, include four who currently hold the title of superintendent and two who are chief of schools in their respective districts:

  • Dr. Michael Dunsmore -- superintendent, Wayne County, North Carolina
    3 years at Wayne County Public Schools, with $195 million annual budget
  • Dr. Diana Greene -- superintendent, Manatee County
    3 years in Bradenton, with $886 million annual budget (first teaching job was in Duval County)
  • Fred Heid -- superintendent Chicago Community Unit School District
    3 years at Algonquin, Illinois, with $277 million annual budget
  • Dr. Sito Narcisse -- chief of schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools
    19 months leading district with $890 million annual budget
  • Harrison Peters -- chief of schools, Hillsborough County
    14 months in Tampa, with $2.3 billion annual budget
  • Dr. Erick Pruitt -- superintendent for Houston Independent School District
    1 year leading district with $1.5 billion annual budget

Board members met over the weekend with the search firm hired to find the new superintendent, and then chose a half-dozen semifinalists at a meeting Monday.

BIOS: Career highlights for 6 Duval County superintendent semifinalists

Dr. Patricia Willis has been the interim superintendent since Dr. Nikolai Vitti left to take a superintendent job in Detroit.

The question facing the school board is who is best suited to run a huge school district with more than 100,000 students.

A representative of the search firm who came up with the 26 candidates mentioned that there weren't as many women as they would have hoped for. Board Chair Paula Wright said that as a woman, that was a bit concerning, but the board is ready to find the best candidate, male or female. 

Board member Scott Shine also thought the initial list of 26 candidates was lacking, and asked the board to consider reaching out to two current DCPS cabinet members and Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis.

“We’ve had a track record of incredible success, which we’ve just seen: record graduation numbers, record FSA scores. We’re the No. 1 urban school district in the country, so I felt some of the folks that brought us here might be good candidates to consider,” Shine said.

Wright said that conversation should have happened a long time ago.

“All seven of us made the decision to move forward to select a new superintendent. All seven of us participated in the process to select a search firm,” Wright said. “Mr. Shine did not show any difference until after that process, and that’s a little late.”

Shine said he was disappointed that the board declined to entertain his request. He suggested the board should not be rushing to get a superintendent in place before the next school year because there is the potential the board could have three new faces come November.

Wright said the board is looking forward to digging deeper into the resumes of the six semifinalists, who will be in town for interviews May 11 and May 12. A second round of in-person interviews with the finalists will be held May 22.

"We are riding high, if you want to say that -- highest graduation scores, fourth- and eighth-graders leading the nation, but we can’t rest on that," Wright said. "Our students need someone to come in, look at where we are and keep the academic progress moving."

The board's goal is to pick the next superintendent and offer a contract by June 1. They hope to have the new leader in place by July 1.

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