EAST COUNTY — The expression, “The sooner the better,” is an understatement for the Manatee County School District.
After the School Board extended an offer to Dr. Justin Terry — a Texan with 13 years of educator experience — for the principal position at Lakewood Ranch High School June 10. Terry declined the job.
He had accepted the deputy superintendent of schools position in his current district, in Wylie, Texas.
“Sometimes other opportunities arise when you let someone know you might leave for another job,” said Cynthia Saunders, executive director of secondary schools. “The candidate made the best decision for his family, and we have to respect that.”
Now, the district must fill Lakewood Ranch High’s retiring principal Linda Nesselhauf’s job — and soon.
Saunders planned to have Terry’s contract start July 1, the day after Nesselhauf’s retirement takes effect. She assures Lakewood Ranch High faculty members, students and their parents that she and the four other members of her committee will have a recommendation by July 3.
The interview committee will make its recommendation to Superintendent Rick Mills, and he will choose a candidate to support. The decision isn’t official, however, until the School Board approves a candidate at its July 22 meeting.
A candidate must be in place as early as possible to complete the required training courses educators must attend prior to the start of the next school year, Saunders said. Thus far, the new principal will have to make up the courses on new teacher evaluations, which will roll out in the 2014-2015 school year, held earlier this week.
The two-day meeting, along with a mid-July course on how to read student test scores and other state and local data, are necessary components to an incoming principal’s success, Saunders said.
“It’s vital for an administrator to learn how to prepare for the next school year by taking these courses,” Saunders said.
Saunders is making the principal search her top priority, she said.
Saunders posted the open position on the school district’s Internet employment hub, the Paperless Applicant Tracking System (PATS), June 12. The posting will stay active for 10 days. After it closes, Saunders’ search starts over again.
The interview committee will review resumes immediately following the receipt of candidates’ application, and Saunders will conduct interviews July 1.
Saunders and her committee of educators will then select the top three candidates to attend a community forum she expects will be held July 2. At the forum, candidates will give brief presentations to attendees and field questions for about 30 minutes.
Although the forum runs during the summer, Saunders urges students, their families and everyone involved with Lakewood Ranch High to attend.
School District Director of Community Engagement Steve Valley and Public Information Officer Mike Barber will access students’ phone numbers through the phone bank and will make calls to inform the public on meeting specifics, Saunders said.
“We’re (the interview committee) interested in the community forum and the responses we get from that,” Saunders said. “It’s still our plan to select someone the public is comfortable with.”
Former candidates Scott Cooper and Tony Losada, whom Terry initially competed against for the principal position, took positions at other schools in the district. Cooper is the new principal of Electa Lee Magnet Middle School, and Losada will lead Buffalo Creek Middle School.
Characteristics Saunders felt Cooper, Losada and Terry all shared — which she still places at the top of her criteria list for the next school leader — include a variety of administrator experience and community involvement.
The next principal must also be capable of maintaining the level of instruction and discipline Nesselhauf put in place when she became the Lakewood Ranch High principal in 2009, Saunders said. Saunders believes the school is on track to receive an “A” rating in the High School Accountability Grades, which the Florida Department of Education will release later this year.
“We’re confident we can find someone to lead such a wonderful school,” Saunders said. “Whoever gets the job is lucky and should be ready to hit the ground running.”
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].