ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Right now the search is underway for the next superintendent who will lead one of Florida’s largest school districts.
The Pinellas County superintendent is stepping down this summer, and some community leaders told ABC Action News they are working hard to ensure the next leader comes from a diverse background.
Dr. Ricardo “Ric” Davis has seen the Pinellas County School District come a long way in the 30 years since the founding of his group, The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black and Brown Students.
“Since then we’ve made tremendous progress,” Davis said.
According to the Pinellas County School District, 10 years ago, only 56 percent of African-American students graduated from high school. Now that number is at 86%. Ten years ago, only 64% of Hispanic students had graduated from high school. Now that number is up to 92%, which is the same as the districtwide graduation rate for all students.
The overall graduation rate of 92% is the highest of any major public school district in Florida.
“The good news is that we have made progress. We have made measurable progress, but it has not been eliminated. We’re on our way and it’s going to take time,” Davis explained.
Davis just wrote a letter in the “Weekly Challenger” talking about the need for a superintendent who recognizes student disparities and understands the need to close the achievement gap.
“I don’t know if it has to be a Hispanic or black African American superintendent to make progress. Dr. Michael Grego did well, but clearly a Hispanic or African American or Black superintendent will bring another dimension to the job,” Davis explained.
The school board plans to hold a special meeting on Tuesday, January 25and to talk about the superintendent’s research. The board plans to spend the next two months gathering community feedback and hopes to have a final nominee selected by June.
Davis hopes to one day see 100% of Hispanic and African American students graduate. He also hopes to see teachers help them there, also coming from diverse backgrounds.
“I think the superintendent needs to understand the history, recognize what we’ve done so far and try to help us move forward,” Davis added.
Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego said that would be his goal as well.
We will do a great job of finding that next person and we will definitely hold that person accountable, and I will too,” he told ABC Action News shortly after announcing his intention to retire.
Here is the full article Davis wrote for publication in the Weekly Challenger:
The question is not intentionally meant to be merely provocative; it is more of an “are we ready” question. The Pinellas County school system should look into this.
We shouldn’t hire a black or Hispanic superintendent because they represent either group. But because hopefully we’ve come to an inflection point in our history where the right candidate isn’t just someone with a traditional background or leadership, but also happens to be black or Hispanic.
The research process must intentionally produce candidates and finalists from diverse backgrounds for this to be possible. In the recent election of a black mayor in St. Petersburg, citizens made the historic and transformative decision that we were ready for change. School board members will decide who will be the next superintendent, and to those members, I ask, are we ready?
No one believes that job selection processes are entirely devoid of elements of subjectivity. After all, we are all human beings with our own biases. However, decision makers will need to provide the community with a transparent process that reflects integrity and fairness.
We still have a Pinellas County Schools Achievement Gap Challenge. That’s not to say we haven’t made progress, we have. Nor is this to suggest that selecting a black or Hispanic superintendent will miraculously solve all of our challenges.
But we know, through extensive research, that a powerful statement can be made when children from historically underserved communities begin to see themselves reflected in the leadership of our institutions.
The new leader must take us beyond the progress we have shown so far. This new leader must be a visionary who can see and articulate new horizons for all students, especially black and Hispanic students. The new superintendent must be an inspiring leader that others are willing to follow.
The person must be prepared to lead a district of approximately 100,000 students, of which approximately 19% are black and 18% are Hispanic. They must be able to manage a $1.6 billion budget and approximately 17,000 employees.
This individual must demonstrate improvement in student achievement through gradual but continuous progress, particularly within the Bridging the Gap plan.
The decision of Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego to retire has provided the District with this unique opportunity to select a new Superintendent at this time in the District’s history. The district has never had a black superintendent since its inception in 1912. Challenges that persist despite incremental progress will not be resolved quickly.
The most qualified candidate does not have to be black or Hispanic, but they most certainly could be, and we as a community should be ready if they are.