Janet Valentine’s tenure as Flagler County’s school superintendent is effectively over. Valentine let the school board know that because of the stroke she suffered just before Thanksgiving, and the intense rehabilitation process she will be going through in spring, she will not be returning to work for the remainder of her contract, which runs through June 30.
That changed the dynamics of the school board’s search for a new superintendent, but not enough to change the timeline of that search, speedy though the timeline is: School Board Chairman Andy Dance Tuesday evening proposed three options, one of them to abort the search and appoint Jacob Oliva superintendent to a short-term contract that would be revisited in late summer.
The proposal had some support, particularly from board members Sue Dickinson and Trevor Tucker, but not enough to carry through to an motion: Tucker and Dickinson were disturbed by the board’s “wooshy-washy” approach in the search–in Dickinson’s words–and wanted to see the board make a decision and stick to it, whether to appoint Oliva or to stick with the search process agreed upon.
Dance’s other options were to stick with that timeline, or to extend it. Board member Colleen Conklin strongly favored extending the timeline, particularly after the chairman of the search committee–Barbara Revels, who is also a county commissioner–emailed the school board attorney her concerns that the timeline was too expedited. “It’s a delicate dance but we have to be genuine and authentic in what we have to do with the process,” Conklin said, reflecting some displeasure with assumptions that the decision was already made. Such assumptions, she said, were unfair to Oliva (should he not get the job) and to the process.
Dance said the search committee was doing what it was designed to do: add public participation. But the transition process has been upended by Valentine’s announcement, he said. “We heard tonight that there’s been, from [Valentine’s] husband, a desire to possibly expedite that process and relieve some stress from here, we’re going to look into buying out her contract,” Dance said. The district has been dealing with stresses of its own with Valentine’s absence, the death of Transportation Director Bruce Preece, and a mounting workload, including strategic planning and early budgeting starting in January.
“I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, knowing the severity of Ms. Valentine’s absence, that she’s not coming back, knowing that Mr. Oliva has already taken the reins, moving forward,” Dance said, floating the idea that now may be the time to just appoint Oliva to a short-term contract, or an interim contract, and revisit it later.
Dickinson was in favor of an outright appointment, but nothing “interim.” So was Tucker. And for a moment it looked as if either might make just such a motion. But neither did. Rather, each board member described his or her preference, though none as succinctly as Tucker.
“I don’t like changing things constantly which seems like what we’re doing right now,” Tucker said. “I am ready to make a decision, but changing constantly does not help the public, does not help the district.” He was willing to let the committee continue to do its job, but he had little regard for it. “It’s not a committee’s choice, either. It’s us five,” he said. “This is our job and responsibility.”
“I’m with Trevor. We are so wooshy-washy,” Dickinson said. She then spoke of her dismay with two issues involving the search committee. The first was that she was getting reports that “someone” on the committee had distributed members’ email addresses, which were generating negative emails to members. The second was the arbitrary appointment of Jerry Copland–the board’s collective bargaining negotiator who works closely with Oliva–as a member of the search committee, or at least as an individual steering the committee. The appointment was made without board input, though board members had each chosen every other member of the committee. Dickinson is not opposed to Copeland’s presence, but to the manner in which he was brought in.
“Ultimately that was probably me. The recommendation was made, I agreed and I moved forward with it,” Dance said, a candid revelation of a decision made somewhat less than transparently.
“There’s five board members, not just one,” Dickinson said.
“If I erred, I apologize,” Dance said.
“His name was not on the list of committee members that you sent us that morning. I’m distressed that that happened that way because we are a board of five,” Dickinson said.
The board then soon adopted the job description that will accompany the ad for a new superintendent. (See below.)
The search committee’s timeline, while still expedited, is essentially unchanged: The position will be posted on Dec. 19–coinciding with two of the slowest weeks of the year–and will close on Jan. 19. The search committee will make its recommendations of about five candidates to the school board on Jan. 23. The board will then decide who to interview on Jan. 30 and 31, with a decision to be announced on Feb. 4.
Throughout the evening’s debates–during a late afternoon workshop and again during the board’s business meeting, which stretched to close to 9 p.m.–Oliva sat in the superintendent’s chair, silent, until the very end of the meeting. “It’s OK for those conversations to happen. I understand that,” he said, adding that he would take whatever decision is made as long as it benefits the district. “It just comes with the territory.”
Oliva ended the meeting with a scoop: he announced to the board that although the official release of Flagler Palm Coast High School’s and Matanzas High School’s grades is not scheduled until morning, he had the grades. Both schools earned an A. That’s the first time in the hisrtory of the two schools (Matanzas opened in 2006) that both got A’s in the same year. It is Matanzas’s third A since 2006, and the second in a row, but just the second for FPC since 2000. FPC had a B last year.
[The line in yellow was struck out by the board Tuesday evening.]
Flagler School Superintendent Job Description