Just 21 candidates, and only one woman among them, have applied to be superintendent of Flagler schools, with four days to go before the application window closes.
That’s half the number of candidates who applied in 2017, to replace Jacob Oliva, who is now state vice chancellor of education, when the position appeared as open as it is now, with no overt favorite–as had been the case in 2014, when Oliva was the clear favorite from the start. Only 20 candidates applied at the time.
Another surprise: only five candidates are from Florida, including two from Palm Coast: Earl Johnson, the only candidate from within the district–he is director of leadership and operations–and Cathy Mittelstadt, the deputy superintendent in St. Johns County Schools. Between Mittlestadt’s vast experience in a large school system from teacher, coach and dean up the administrative ranks, and her district’s reputation as Florida’s best year after year, she would have to be considered the front-runner but for a candidate from Texas who’s not entirely from Texas: Vernon Orndorff, the prodigal among the 21, a past district administrator and past favorite for the position.
Two school board members, Andy Dance and Trevor Tucker, attempted to hire Orndorff to avoid a national search in early 2017, when Orndorff was Oliva’s right-hand man in the position that Johnson holds now. Board members Janet McDonald, Colleen Conklin and Maria Barbosa blocked the move. They wanted a broader search. After they did so, Orndorff took a position in Texas, where he has family, and where he’d been assured the position of superintendent after a stint as principal (though the district numbers just 200 students).
The same five board members sit on the board now, though dynamics may have changed, with McDonald, who chairs the board, said to now favor Orndorff, which would give him a decisive advantage.
Absent additional candidates (a few always wait until the last moment, gauging their chances against those who have filed, and to delay as long as possible the public disclosure of their search), the competition will not be particularly stiff: a few candidates in experience and background clearly have more strengths than the rest. Seven are current superintendents, one is retired, but all hail from smaller districts than Flagler’s, the largest two having 4,000 and 5,000 students.
Michael Raso, superintendent of Bettendorff schools in Iowa, oversees 650 employees and 5,000 students, but he’s been embattled, with a May 2019 closed-door meeting of his school board called to “evaluate the professional competency of an individual” (meaning Raso), as a meeting notice read, even though weeks earlier the board had extended his contract unanimously. Such political maneuvering is not unusual for executives in those positions, when it doesn’t take much more than a change of wind to turn a stable position into a precarious one: Jim Tager, Flagler’s superintendent, felt the ground shift himself last year when McDonald, without warning, said it was time to look for a replacement. Tager was due to retire at the end of June, but he had not expected the discussion to start on those terms, and described himself the way colleagues and others described it: “shocked.” After briefly considering sitting out six months and returning, Tager decided against it, seeing that he no longer had the sort of air-tight confidence he would have been more comfortable with.
One of the applicants with the richer resume mirrors Tager’s situation: Yaw Obeng, currently the Burlington, Vt., district superintendent. He told his board that he would be stepping down at the end of his contract the last day of June, coinciding with Tager’s last day, to pursue other opportunities. For five years he led a district with 4,000 students, but a particularly diverse one (he uses the word “reculture” to describe some of his accomplishments): the district’s annual report features the image of three students or women, seen from the back, clasping hands in a victory sign behind a boat’s American flag; the woman in the middle appears to be wearing a Muslim veil. The annual report replicates its contact information in nine languages. Obeng, who was educated and spent most of his career in Canada, includes letters of recommendation from his own board members.
Once the application window closes, a citizen’s advisory board appointed by the Flagler School Board will meet on Feb. 4, 11 and, if necessary, Feb. 18, culling through the applications and reducing them to a short-list that it will forward to the board on Feb. 19. The board at a special meeting on Feb. 25 will then choose the candidates it will want to interview, conducting those interviews on March 5 and 6. The selection is scheduled to take place at a board meeting on March 10.
The full application packages are below.
Flagler County School Superintendent Candidates, 2020
|Candidate Number(*)||The Candidates||Location||Last Position|
|10||Wayne Alexander||Old Lyme, Conn.||Assistant Principal|
|27||Jeffrey Alstadt||Crescent City, Ill.||District Administrator, Randall School District, Wis. (K-8)|
|8||Raymond L. Bryant, Jr.||Locust Grove, Ga.||Consultant|
|23||Sean Chance||Pembroke Pines, Fla.||Administrator, Pembroke Pines Charter Schools|
|12||George J. Chidiac [Withdrew]||Bayville, N.J.||Superintendent (2,000 students)|
|30||Peri-Anne Chobot||Elkridge, Md.||Prep School Principal|
|29||Colleen Conklin||Flagler Beach||Flagler County School Board member, Executive Director of Embry-Riddle Gaetz Aerospace Institute|
|28||Kim Eger||Peoria, Ariz.||Education Superintendent for Arizona Juvenile Corrections|
|24||Curtis Ellis||Palm Coast||Principal, Putnam Academy of Arts and Science|
|4||Andrei E. Ghelman||Naples, Fla.||Adjunct Professor, FGCU|
|21||Terence N. Hayes||Madisonville, Ky.||Retired Superintendent|
|15||Eric T. Jackson||Sarasota, Fla.||High School Principal|
|13||Earl Johnson||Palm Coast||Leadership and Operations Director, Flagler Schools|
|5||Matthew T. Liberatore||Chicago||Director of Professional Learning and Student Services|
|31||Matthew Lutz||Kill Devil Hills, N.C.||Assistant Superintendent (4,300 students)|
|32||Erin McMahon [Withdrew]||East Falmouth, Mass.||Adjunct Professor|
|14||Cathy Mittelstadt||Palm Coast||Deputy Superintendent, St. Johns County Schools|
|16||Carl E. Moore||New Smyrna Beach||Chemistry, AP Teacher, Father Lopez High School|
|3||Terry L. Nelson [Withdrew]||Sparta, Ga.||Former Administrator|
|18||Yaw L. Obeng||Burlington, Vt.||Superintendent (4,000 students)|
|2||Vernon R. Orndorff||Waxahachie, Texas||Superintendent, Milford District (200 students)|
|1||Anthony D. Pack||Warner Robins, Ga.||Regional Education Administrator|
|33||Nigel Pillay||St. Augustine||Elementary School Principal|
|19||Michael G. Raso||Davenport, Iowa||Superintendent (5,000 students)|
|22||Jeff Reaves||Edgewater, Fla.||Principal, Matanzas High School|
|35||Randy Shearouse||Springfield, Ga.||Superintendent (12,000 students)|
|9||David M. Schmittou||Grand Blanc, Mich.||District Curriculum Director|
|7||Eric T. Stair||loomsburg, Pa.||High School Principal|
|20||Bruce Thomas||Akron, Ohio||Superintendent of 3 Charter Schools (580 students)|
|17||Nicolas Dusan Wade||Bolingbrook, Ill.||Superintendent (3,000 students)|
|6||Ron Wagner||Brooklyn Park, Minn.||Associate Superintendent|
|34||Tenille Wallace||Flagler Beach||Elementary School Principal|
|11||Jeff Williamson||Show Low, Ariz.||Superintendent, Bureau of Indian Education|
|25||Michael Winters||Sun City, Ariz.||District Administrator, Madison District Schools (6,000 students)|
|26||Janet Womack||Prosper, Texas||Consultant|
(*) The school board assigned a candidate number to each applicant to facilitate the selection process and blindly determine the order of interviews when that time comes.