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Broward County picks Vickie Cartwright to be permanent superintendent

MIA_06CartwrightBrowardMask.jpeg
EMILY MICHOT
/
The Miami Herald
Broward County Schools interim superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright was named to the permanent post on Wednesday.

The board of Broward County Public Schools has decided to keep a career educator as the district’s top leader: Dr. Vickie Cartwright will become the permanent superintendent of BCPS. Board members voted 8 to 1 on Wednesday to pick Cartwright, the person who’s led the district on an interim basis since August 2021.

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Speaking to board members during a public interview on Wednesday, Cartwright said she’s proven herself in her six months on the job, but she also hopes to be more effective in the permanent role.

“You've had the opportunity at this point in time for a little over six months to see if there is an alignment between my words and my actions,” Cartwright said. “There have been some actions that I have not been able to take as an interim superintendent just yet.”

Cartwright takes on the permanent job at a time when the district is facing multiple challenges. Besides the coronavirus pandemic and its profound impacts on the well-being of students and staff, the district is also grappling with a massive school reconstruction project that’s been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and what some parents say is a lack of trust in district leaders, months after former Superintendent Robert Runcie resigned after being charged with felony perjury.

Cartwright told the board that all of her experience in public education, from the classroom to the boardroom, has prepared her to take on this role.

“As superintendent, again, it’s advocating. It's also ensuring that you have the resources that are readily available. It’s also ensuring that those resources are being utilized. And if not, why not? So that you can get to the root cause,” Cartwright said.

The board initially voted 7 to 2 to choose Cartwright, with Board Members Ann Murray and Lori Alhadeff voting for the other finalist, Michael Gaal, a retired Air Force colonel and former administrator in three large urban school districts.

Murray requested the board take a second vote in the hopes that Cartwright would win unanimous support. While Murray changed her vote, Alhadeff declined to do so, resulting in the 8 to 1 tally.

Cartwright has worked in education for two decades, starting out as a music teacher and band director before climbing the ranks as an administrator in Orange County Public Schools.

Before coming to Broward County, she served as superintendent of the Oshkosh Area School District in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She resigned the job under pressure in March 2021, after district administrators penned an anonymous letter criticizing her leadership, according to reporting by the Oshkosh Northwestern.

Cartwright has the support of the Broward Teachers Union and the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association, but during public comments on Wednesday, some critics continued to question why she resigned from her previous superintendent job in Wisconsin. Board members did not specifically ask her about the situation during the two rounds of public interviews.

The board opted against Gaal, who had pledged to use his military background to bring accountability and a new leadership style to BCPS.

“I believe very strongly in climate and culture in the building, which I think will extend both to student success and teacher success,” Gaal told the board. “But what I'm hearing very clearly, not just from teachers in Broward County, but from teachers within my family and the systems that I've worked, is that the downward pressure on teachers to be able to make the impossible possible, without clarity on what roles and resources are available, has to stop.”

Though Gaal worked for a handful of years as an administrator in schools in Detroit, Oakland and Washington, D.C., some board members and community members questioned whether someone without K-12 classroom experience would be best equipped to lead the nation’s sixth-largest school district.

Some of Gaal’s supporters, who are critical of the district’s current leadership and coronavirus precautions, said they may pull their kids out of Broward schools if the board didn’t pick him.

Christine Chaparro, chair of the Broward County chapter of Moms for Liberty, told the board she’s pulling one of her children out of BCPS because of a lack of trust in district leaders.

“We now have just over 370 members,” Chaparro said of the group. “Parents are paying attention. So parents will be watching the decision made today. And it will impact how this district changes in the future.”

School board chair Laurie Rich Levinson called on the community to put their differences aside and support the district’s superintendent, regardless of which candidate they preferred. 

“We're in an education crisis in the nation and we need to talk about that and we need to react to it,” Levinson said. “Due to COVID, we have kids farther behind than we have ever seen in our schools.”

“It is my hope that when we make our selection today, that we will move together as a unified district. We can't afford to be going back and forth with each other as adults. We need to all focus on the students,” she added. 

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter