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School district to choose interim superintendent June 14

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jun 8, 2021

The School Board of Lee County interviewed two candidates for the interim superintendent position Monday morning with plans to narrow the field down to a finalist and then vote at their June 14 meeting.

The board originally invited five candidates to take part in the interview process to temporarily fill the position to become vacant upon the pending retirement of Superintendent Dr. Gregory Adkins.

“We had five finalist chosen to go through the interview process. Since then, three have withdrawn for various reasons. We have two remaining,” facilitator Scott Kashman said.

The candidates interviewed included Dr. Kenneth Savage, the district’s current chief operations officer, and Dr. Vickie Cartwright, the current superintendent of Oshkosh Area School District in Wisconsin.

Before the two candidates were brought into the board room, Board member Mary Fischer asked her fellow board members to consider looking at their individual rubric and pick the next two, or three, of the highest scores to join the pool of candidates.

“So we would have a broader base to choose from,” she said. “I don’t know if our current pool of candidates is adequate to make the best decision to carry our district forward.”

Her idea was shot down by the board with only Board member Chris Patricca saying she could live with the decision either way.

The first interview, a total of 70 minutes, began at 10:30 a.m. with questions surrounding the areas of work experience, budget and finance, strategic plan, communications, community involvement, problem solving and innovation and self awareness. The highest score the candidate could receive is 35 points and the lowest seven points, according to the rubric the board chose.

Board members have to submit their scores by Friday to Kashman and Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno. Kashman said he will look at the highest points earned by each of the board members to get to the clear No. 1 candidate and No. 2 candidate.

“I will help facilitate the discussion we will have at your next board meeting to decide the next superintendent,” Kashman said of June 14.

He explained that the score does not decide who the board will ultimately choose, but rather guide the discussion.

“Ultimately you will decide through discussion and vote who you ultimately want to recommend,” Kashman said.

After the discussion takes place, Dupuy-Bruno will have two hours to negotiate a contract with the board’s top choice, followed by the board taking an action meeting vote at 4 p.m. the same day.

The Monday morning process began by each candidate sharing some background information with the board and concluded with the candidate having the opportunity to share more information during their 10-minute final remarks.

Cartwright said she has completed more than 25 years in education, which entailed many positions from band director to her current position of superintendent. Out of those more than 25 years, 17 were spent in Orange County Public Schools here in Florida. Currently, she is in the 11th largest district in Wisconsin.

“I want to get back to Florida. I’m ready to get back to Florida,” Cartwright said of why she applied to the position. She grew up in the Pensacola area.

Savage, who attended Villas Elementary School, Dunbar Middle School and Cypress Lake High School, said his education continued at Florida State University where he was interested in film school.

“There were only 15 people accepted across the country. I wanted to be a director, but I also loved coaching,” he told the board. “I loved coaching because it was an opportunity to take a group of individuals and bring them together as a team and produce tremendous things.”

Savage switched careers two years in and decided to go to law school. He did not want to take big loans out for his schooling, so he worked at an inner-city school during the day and attended law school at night.

“For the first time in my life I found a calling,” Savage said, adding that working in those inner-city schools he found students who were just like him.

That school, which has since closed, was located in the highest crime area in Jacksonville. The poverty rate among the student body family population was 100%; 99% of the students were Black. That experience inspired Savage and eradicating poverty became a personal mission.

His career, similar to Cartwright’s, took him through many positions from working in the classroom to being the chief of operations.

A common theme throughout Cartwright’s interview was she is a people person who enjoys creating relationships with everyone from her staff and beyond. She said when working alongside others and beside them “you can move mountains.”

“No one person is greater than anyone else. People need to see that you are a person. You are not just a figure, or entitled individual. Everyone contributes to the conversation, there are just different viewpoints. I am humbled. (I was) given a gift. I am able to utilize with others to get significant things accomplished for students,” she said, adding that students come first.

Savage believes in communication, connection with others, and everyone working together for the common goal — putting children first.

“As a leader you only have so much emotional bandwidth. Everyone wants a piece of you. You really want to be able to give everyone everything and you just can’t,” Savage said, adding that you have to have those “very honest relationships based on mutual respect. You have to have that level of real authenticity and service orientation to lift everyone up.”

If chosen, he said he will “give back in honor to all those who gave to me.”