Karen Barber will become the next superintendent of the Santa Rosa County School District.
Barber, who currently serves as the director of federal programs with the school district, won with 54% of the vote at the close of polls Tuesday.
Her challengers, David Gunter and Michael Alan Thorpe, netted 26% and 19% of the vote, respectively.
Barber celebrated her victory with an election night watch party with family and friends at a rented house on Pensacola Beach.
She told the News Journal just minutes after the final unofficial results came in that she was “humbled, grateful and ready to get to work.” She also said she is ready to handle the many challenges the school district is facing at the moment.
“I’m starting my 34th year in education, and I’ve worked at all levels and built partnerships with leaders from around the state, nation and our county,” she said. “This is certainly a huge responsibility, and it takes someone with experience. My experience will help me to be able to be courageous, be calm and work very closely with our teachers and families, as well as leaders in the community, to do the very best for our children. I think strong and experienced leadership is more important now than ever.”
Barber will replace outgoing superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, who was first elected in 2008 and did not seek re-election this year.
Barber will have a difficult task on her hands in the 2020-2021 school year, with the school system facing an unprecedented challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Additionally, Barber will have to guide the district through the next several years as it grapples with Santa Rosa County’s growing population and tries to build multiple new schools to accommodate that growth.
The district is also locked in a legal battle with the Home Builders Association of West Florida, which challenged the district’s implementation of an educational impact fee in court. The current board and superintendent have said that educational impact fees are the only way they can build the new schools the district desperately needs.
Barber beat out challengers Gunter and Thorpe for the seat. All three currently work as administrators in the school district.
The new superintendent will take the oath of office at 9 a.m. Nov. 17 at the Russell Center on the campus of Locklin Tech at 5330 Berryhill Road in Milton.
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.