School board narrows choice of interim superintendent to 3

Dr. Nikolai Vitti to leave next week for similar job in Detroit

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Duval County School Board on Monday discussed who will lead the school district after Dr. Nikolai Vitti leaves next week. The board narrowed the field to three candidates and agreed to interview them in person Wednesday morning, then vote on who would get the job.

The candidates include:

Pearl Roziers -- added to the list Monday at board member Becki Couch's recommendation -- is currently Duval County assistant superintendent of school choice.
Dr. Patricia Willis - nominated by the Florida School Board Association and board chair Paula Wright’s recommendation -- has spent 35 years with Duval County Public Schools and was deputy superintendent from 2007-2012.
Dr. Earl Lennard --  nominated by the Florida School Board Association -- was superintendent of Hillsborough County schools from 1996 to 2005. He went on to become an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida and Supervisor of Elections of Hillsborough County before going into private industry.

"We're going to ask for each candidate to be prepared for 30 minutes each, then we will have discussion and vote," Wright said. 

The board agreed that they were looking only for an interim superintendent, not someone would want the job long term.

"When we started this process we would ask that only in particular our interim short-term candidates for superintendency not be interested in applying for the position, because then it makes it very hairy."

Board member Scott Shine is one several who want the interim to come from inside the organization.

"I think it's important to have continuity and have an interim superintendent who knows our playbook," Shine said. "Education is a very complex business.  I don't want to see someone coming into the system from the outside."

One was internal and the other four were recommendations from the Florida School Board Association. The person who came in fourth place was an internal candidate who they are keeping in mind – as Pearl

One question that was to be cleared up before Wednesday was Roziers's retirement schedule. She had planned to retire at the end of this school year and asked that her becoming the interim would not adversely affect her retirement.

The others considered for the interim job who did not make the short list include:

Dr. Roger Dearing -- nominated by the Florida School Board Association  -- retired after 39 years in public schools, including being superintendent of school districts in Indian River and Manatee counties. 
Dr. Dana Kriznar – current chief of staff DCPS (the only candidate who applied on her own) -- left Duval County as principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to attend the University of Florida to get her Ph.D. in educational administration, research and policy.
Kathryn Leroy -- nominated by the Florida School Board Association -- was superintendent of Polk County school from 2013 to 2016 after five years in Duval County schools as director of high school education and chief academic officer.
Dr. Margaret A. Smith -- nominated by the Florida School Board Association -- retired in 2015 after 11 years a superintendent of Volusia County schools.

Duval County School Board member Scott Shine reminded when Vitti came to Duval County in 2012, it was a 9-12 month process, which means that it could be close to a year before Duval County has a new superintendent of schools. 

The Detroit Public Schools Community District voted unanimously Friday to approve a five-year contract with Vitti as their new superintendent.

Vitti will make $295,000 in his first two years in Detroit, $303,000 in his third year, $312,000 in his fourth year and $322,000 in the fifth. Vitti's contract will provide him with a $9,000 annual car allowance, $25,000 in moving expenses and a $20,000 annuity. His current salary in Duval County is $275,000.

The contract now must be approved by the Detroit Financial Review Commission, according to the Detroit Free Press. The commission oversees some of the financial decisions made by the district. The approval could come as early as Monday, as the board president says that’s when the commission will meet, but says it could also happen at the board’s monthly meeting in June.

Vitti issued a statement Friday evening after Detroit’s announcement:

“The DPSCD school board's vote this evening is bittersweet in that I have the opportunity to return to the city that I deeply love while leaving a city that has largely supported me and my family over past four years. I have accepted this great challenge and opportunity because it defines who I am as a leader and person.

"‎I am profoundly grateful to the DPSCD school board for granting me the privilege, honor, and responsibility to lead the city's new school district. I have stated from the beginning that there needed to be a match between the new school board and me. I believe that this connection was evident from the moment we started to know each other. We have the same passion and vision for the children of Detroit and we both accept the responsibility to ensure their success. I have no doubt that we will make the school district a leader in urban education once again by working as a team with children as our focus.

"It is important that I begin this work as soon as possible and therefore I will be starting the week of May 22nd. This is why I have been focusing on my current role as superintendent in Duval County since I was named a finalist to ensure that everything under my responsibility was handled with detail and strategy to provide for a healthy transition. I thank the Duval County School Board for their support throughout this process.

"I cannot thank my team enough for their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. This includes all district and school-based administrators, support staff, and teachers. Our collective work has made a difference in the lives of the children we serve. I am especially appreciative to those in the business, faith-based, and non-profit communities who were always ready and willing to assist in making the lift of change lighter.

"I leave the district knowing that it is in a better state than when I started. There is still much to complete and I hope the Duval County School Board will select a leader that will continue to make hard decisions in the best interest of children."

He will take over as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which was created last year by the Michigan Legislature. It includes all the students, staff and buildings from the failed Detroit Public School District, which was in financial crisis in 2009 when it was taken over by the state. Since then, more than 100 schools have closed and five emergency managers have run the school district.


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