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Broward school board narrows superintendent search to four

Dillard High
Charles Trainor Jr.
/
Miami Herald

The Broward County school board has named its four semifinalists to be the next superintendent of the nation’s sixth largest school district. Board members narrowed down the list of 39 total applicants at a special meeting Tuesday.

The district’s interim superintendent, Vickie Cartwright, is among the top candidates vying to lead the district, which serves some 270,000 students and 30,000 employees across 337 schools.

The four semifinalists are:

  • Vickie Cartwright, interim superintendent of Broward County Public Schools
  • Michael Gaal, former president of ed tech company Beable and former deputy chancellor of DC Public Schools
  • Peter Licata, a regional superintendent for the School District of Palm Beach County
  • Keith Oswald, chief of equity and wellness for the School District of Palm Beach County

The four semifinalists will move on to the first round of interviews, which are scheduled for Feb. 2. Board members plan to then narrow the field again, selecting two finalists to advance to the second round of interviews on Feb. 8, the same day the district is scheduling a public event for community members to meet the candidates. A final vote is slated for Feb. 9.

“We're going to have two public meetings plus a stakeholder meeting where the community can meet the candidates and interchange, have conversations or see them, ask questions. So I really think that our process is extremely thorough,” said board member Patricia Good.

The Broward County school board has been in the process of searching for a new superintendent for months, in stark contrast to the process carried out in neighboring Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where board members moved rapidly and rejected calls from community members to do a national search. On Monday, the M-DCPS board picked Dr. Jose Dotres, who has three decades of teaching and administrative experience in the district.

Broward, meanwhile, opted to appoint an interim superintendent and hire outside firm Ray and Associates to oversee the search process and recruit prospective candidates. The firm’s Michael Collins told board members Tuesday that in addition to advertising the job posting, the company directly contacted 1,553 individuals across all 50 states, casting a broad recruiting net.

The firm presented the board with 39 potential candidates, 15 of whom the consultants considered qualified based on the job description, but only eight of whom were recommended. Ray and Associates staffers checked the social media history of the eight preferred candidates and interviewed them and each of their references. More extensive background checks will be conducted on the finalists, including reviews of their financial history and driving records.

Among the recommended candidates were two who applied to be superintendent of M-DCPS, Rafaela Espinal and Michael Cohen, neither of whom made the cut in Broward.

Cartwright, who previously served as the superintendent of schools in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and spent 15 years as an administrator in Orange County Public Schools, has established strong support in Broward after taking the helm in August.

Board members took an informal poll Tuesday to gauge which candidates should get an interview; Cartwright netted votes from all nine board members. Oswald got six votes, Licata five, and Gaal four.

One top supporter of Cartwright asked the board to cut to the chase Tuesday and nominate the interim superintendent to take over the permanent post immediately. Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, has been very public about her chosen candidate. Cartwright listed Fusco as a reference in her application for the job and included a glowing letter of recommendation from the union leader.

“You really have done your due diligence of getting it done and so forth. And I hope that you guys can take a move today of, let's …ending it,” Fusco told the board on Tuesday. “Dr. Vickie Cartwright has been in this position for a few months now. And she's only done a job that has been moving forward. And I believe if she had a permanent position, so much more could be done. It's really time to stop and say we found our candidate.”

Cartwright was appointed to lead the district after former superintendent Robert Runcie resigned, following his indictment on a felony perjury charge stemming from a grand jury investigation into the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting in Parkland that killed 17 people.

Runcie said the reason he stepped down was not because of the charge, but in order to give peace to families whose loved ones were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Two of the district’s board members, Lori Alhadeff and Debra Hixon, lost family members in the shooting.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter