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Former candidate again vying for Indian River County schools chief post

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – A top finalist for the Indian River County Schools Superintendent position in 2007 returned Saturday for a second shot at getting the schools chief post.

Dr. Joseph Burke, current superintendent for the Monroe County School District, which consists primarily of the Florida Keys, is again under consideration to lead Indian River County’s school district.

Burke told the School Board, which met Saturday afternoon in a special session to interview the candidate, that Indian River County is a special place for him.

He noted that his father lives in the county and was in the audience during the interview. A sister, too, lives in the county, as does an uncle, who lives in Sebastian. His cousins often visit the area as well.

“This is more like home,” Burke said, than living in the Florida Keys.

The Monroe County School District has 11 traditional schools, four charters and five centers and more than 8,000 students. By comparison, Indian River County has 27 schools and about 17,000 students.

Burke told the School Board during his interview that he would like to work for a larger school district because he thinks it would be a good fit.

He also told the board that he has submitted his resume to the Lee County School District, though it is not his first choice.

Burke was appointed the schools superintendent for Monroe County in 2009 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Burke has also served as the superintendent for Springfield, Mass.

“There is a certain amount of insanity about wanting to be a superintendent,” Burke told the board as a response for Board Chair Matt McCain’s question about why he would want to be the district’s schools chief.

McCain asked Burke about how he might go about forging a level of trust with the district’s unions – something that, he said, he has heard is currently lacking.

Burke told him that part of the superintendent’s job should be sitting down, one-on-one with the unions to discuss the issues and reinforce that each person is in a certain role – that the role and the person are separate.

“There’s always the institutional stuff” that the “roles” have to focus on, Burke said. He explained that if the discussion never gets deeper that the institution, then trust won’t be possible.

He expressed concern as a whole for teachers.

“Teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure,” Burke said. “We have to recognize that. We have to work with them on that. We have to move forward.”

Burke also expressed his support for charter schools – in general – and favors school choice.

“I think school districts have to recognize that we’re not in a monopolistic market by any means,” Burke said. He added that, so long as the district does its best and provides flexibility, it will continue to do well.

“I believe in charters,” he said. “But they have to get the job done.”

Burke added that the Monroe County School District is about ready to begin reviewing its charter schools more closely, noting that the charters are in need of more scrutiny than they have currently had.

The School Board will continue its series of special meetings on Monday with a community reception at 9 a.m. for Dr. Anne Garrett, of Haywood County, N.C., and an interview following at 10 a.m.

The reception and interview is open to the public.

The School Board is expected to choose one of the six finalists to replace out-going Schools Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava, who retires at the end of June.

The School Board has a special meeting planned for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to discuss all the candidates and determine the next step. All the interviews are expected to be wrapped before then.

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