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Board narrows education commissioner list to 7


The chancellor who oversees Florida’s elementary and secondary schools and her predecessor are among seven semifinalists in the State Board of Education’s nationwide search for a new education commissioner.

The board unanimously voted to winnow a list of 29 applicants Tuesday. The semifinalists, including K-12 Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke, will be invited for interviews during the next meeting Sept. 17-18 in Tampa before the board selects a set of finalists.

Four other semifinalists also have strong Florida ties, starting with former K-12 Chancellor Jim Warford, now executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators.

Others with Florida connections are former Hillsborough County School Superintendent Earl Lennard, now an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa; Joseph Marinelli, a district superintendent in Newark, N.Y., who once served as an assistant to Orange County’s school superintendent, and Eric Smith, a senior vice president with the College Board in New York City, who once was a top school administrator in Volusia County.

The remaining candidates are William Harner, deputy to the chief executive office of Philadelphia’s school district, and former Colorado Education Commissioner William Moloney.

“There was focus on trying to find people with current and past ties to Florida,” said Nancy Noeske, president of PROACT Search Inc., the board’s consulting firm based in Milwaukee, Wis.

The search elements included a familiarity with Florida’s culture and institutions.

Yecke, a Republican who was briefly employed by a conservative think tank, dropped a campaign for Congress in Minnesota to take her present job in 2005.

Before that she had served 16 months as Minnesota’s education commissioner until the Democratic controlled state Senate fired her. Her tenure there included rewriting academic standards and launching a school grading system similar to the one implemented in Florida by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999.

Some Minnesota lawmakers disliked her hard-charging style and complained her conservative agenda was turning education into a political battleground. Yecke also has served as Virginia’s education secretary.

Her support for such ideas as school grading and vouchers, which let children attend private schools at public expense, was a good fit, though, with Bush and then-Education Commissioner John Winn.

Warford also supported many of the same policies but quit his state job, saying he disagreed with management style of Bush and Winn. Warford claimed their arrogance led to missed opportunities for compromise on some key issues such as vouchers and class-size limits.

Winn resigned shortly after Gov. Charlie Crist replaced Bush in January. Most board members, though, are Bush appointees including Chairman T. Willard Fair, whom Crist reappointed.

Moloney, a champion of standardized tests who often clashed with lawmakers and unionized teachers, resigned this year as Colorado’s education commissioner. He said he left because of the changing political climate after Democrats expanded their hold on state government including the election of Democrat Bill Ritter as governor.

As Hillsborough’s superintendent, Lennard implemented a school choice program, established charter schools and led the development of a merit pay plan for teachers.

Marinelli has overseen a five-county school district for the past 13 years. He has held other administrative jobs New York State and was superintendent in Livonia, Mich. In Florida, he led project development for Orange County schools in 1977-79 and before that was Florida’s education lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Smith has been with the College Board, which administers the SAT entrance exam, since last year. He previously was a superintendent in Annapolis, Md., and Charlotte, N.C. He managed planning for Volusia schools in 1988-90 after serving as a principal in Winter Park.

Harner is a retired Army officer who also has been a secondary program director and principal in Gainesville, Ga.; superintendent in Greenville, S.C., and principal in Hilton Head, S.C.

The board voted 4-3 to rejected four applications submitted after the July 23 deadline and by consensus rejected a fifth, from Thomas Tocco, that was completed late. Noeske had recommended Tocco, a former Fort Worth, Texas, school superintendent, as a semifinalist.

On the Net:

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– Associated Press

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