Indian River County School Board narrows Superintendent field to two

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board Thursday evening narrowed the field of Schools Superintendent candidates from six to two.

The finalists are Indian River County’s own Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Fran Adams and Palm Beach County Area Superintendent E. Wayne Gent.

Adams interviewed with the School Board just hours prior to the board’s special meeting to discuss the six candidates. Gent interviewed on Tuesday.

The next step is for the School Board to arrange site visits with the two candidates next week.

“There was no doubt in mind,” School Board Chair Matt McCain told his fellow board members that Dr. Adams and Mr. Gent were his Top 2 choices.

The School Board will visit Dr. Adams at the Indian River County School District offices and then have her take the board to a school. Board members want to see how the candidates interact with the staff as well as the teachers and students within the district.

The board plans to drive to Palm Beach County the same day to visit Gent’s office and have him take them to one of his schools.

During the site visits, School Board members plan to discuss questions that were brought up during the interview process.

Though School Board members seemed rather impressed with Gent’s experience, they were put off by what they called a “media blitz” and “campaign” for the post, referring to multiple copies of numerous referral letters they received.

Setting the letters aside, both members Jeff Pegler and Claudia Jimenez said they were better able to gauge his qualifications.

“I have struggled with Mr. Gent in my mind,” Pegler said, explaining the letters made him feel like Gent was trying to compensate for something that was lacking.

Member Karen Disney-Brombach also said she did not care for all the letters.

“I was prepared not to like Mr. Gent,” she said, but explained that many of his answers were exactly what she was hoping to hear.

“I think he would be excellent,” Disney-Brombach said. “He is my choice for Number 1.”

Both Gent and Adams received four votes in a straw poll out of the Top Four the board had truncated the list to.

“As far as Dr. Adams goes,” McCain told the board, “I think any district would be extremely lucky to have her as a superintendent.”

McCain said that selecting Adams would be the “easiest” decision and would the district would have an “almost seamless” transition – yet it would also be the “hardest” to sell to some in the community.

“In some corners of our community, I think it would be a tough sell,” McCain said, adding that some might call it “cronyism” or “good ole boy” to hire from within.

He added that was the only negative he could find in choosing Adams.

A couple School Board members, however, expressed concerns about Adams’ responses during the interview about how she would relate to charter schools.

“I didn’t know if it was genuine,” Disney-Brombach said of Adams comments regarding working collaboratively with charters to break down the barriers between the district and the schools.

She said that it had not been her experience that the district’s staff had done as the School Board directed regarding charters.

Pegler agreed with Disney-Brombach’s concern, but added that the board should try to determine if the issues the district has had with charters is a result of current Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava’s leadership and direction or something directly related to Adams.

In Adams’s defense, Jimenez said that she liked that the assistant superintendent has been on both side of the charter issue.

During her interview, Adams told the board that she was the principal at Citrus Elementary when Osceola Magnet opened – taking between 10 and 15 of her families away and being “devastated” by that. On the flip side, she explained, she was the principal in charge of opening Sebastian River High School, which took both teachers and families from Vero Beach High.

Adams pointed to those experiences as a way she would be able to relate to the charter schools.

“I really believe that what she said was not disingenuous,” Jimenez said, adding later, “I do believe she has potential.”

The School Board eliminated the two out-of-state candidates from consideration, noting that neither came with specific knowledge of Florida’s unique rules and regulations pertaining to schools or public education funding.

The remaining two candidates, Dr. Greg Adkins of Lee County, and Dr. Joseph Burke of Monroe County, were dismissed in part for personality conflicts.

Of Adkins, board members said he was too reserved and were concerned he would not be able to be the “face” of the district – going out into the community touting the district’s accomplishments.

Of Burke, McCain said he was concerned the candidate would come across as “cold” and “aloof” by members of the public.

In both cases, the board agreed that the personalities were not the right fit for what the district is seeking at this time.

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