The Escambia County School Board is down to four finalists in its search for a new school superintendent.
Over the past few weeks, the board has whittled a list of 27 applicants down to a quartet of four people to bring into Pensacola for interviews next week.
The finalists are Earl Johnson, a school administrator from Flagler County; Keith Rittel, a sitting superintendent from Provo, Utah; Timothy Smith, a director for multiple Orlando-area high schools; and Keith Leonard, Escambia County’s current assistant superintendent for human resource services.
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A citizen advisory committee did the initial rounds of vetting, and ultimately recommended six applicants to the board for consideration. Two of the six were excluded from the final round of interviews: Vincent Cotter, who withdrew from the search due to family obligations, and Marques Stewart, whom board members were concerned did not have enough district-level leadership experience.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the board discussed the strengths of each candidate and cast votes for the finalists they wanted to interview in person.
Smith was the only finalists who received a vote from all five board members.
Board Chair Patty Hightower, summarizing some of his strengths, noted “I like the fact that he comes from a large district. He’s in Florida. He’s got education degrees, but his undergraduate degree was in business. He also mentions the military, needing to address the military and communicate well with the military.”
Hightower noted one of the biggest positives she saw was his stated professional philosophy of making decisions for every child as if they were his own child.
The remaining three candidates received three votes each from the board. Speaking to some of the strengths of those candidates, board members noted Johnson was already familiar with Florida regulations and was part of a COVID-19 task force in his district. Rittel has the benefit of experience as a superintendent, and Leonard, the lone internal candidate in the search, already has familiarity with the Escambia County School District.
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The four finalists will be invited to visit the school district Aug. 26-28. On Aug. 27, the finalists will spend the day in interviews that will be live streamed and archived for public review. In the lead up to the interview, the board will post information on how members of the public can submit questions for the finalists.
This is the first time in modern history Escambia County’s superintendent will be appointed rather than elected. They will replace Malcolm Thomas, who is set to retire from the district this November.
Kevin Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8527.