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Superintendent Search Unaffected By Coronavirus, Citizens Group To Help


The Escambia County School Board is moving ahead with its search for the district’s first-ever appointed superintendent. At its regular meeting Tuesday, the panel appointed the members of a Citizens Advisory Committee that will assist in the selection process, which is still on track despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We approved the appointment of 22 individuals to serve as our workgroup to help us in reviewing the applications,” said board chairwoman Patty Hightower, who’s been overseeing the search process.

“This group will use the qualities and attributes that were identified through the survey and the community input sessions and board discussion; and those can be seen on our recruitment materials that can be found on our website. They will go through that process in June, after the applications are all in.”

In terms of the committee makeup, Hightower believes the members are a good representation of the local community.

“We have retired educators. We have educators that are presently in our system, and we have a lot of diversity there; we have a mix of male and female. I think it’s a good group,” she said. “  

In the appointees, Hightower was looking for individuals that had many connections in the community and had developed a certain level of trust.

“I see this group is our transparency group; that they will be able to relate to the community that this was in fact a very fair and transparent system of hiring this next superintendent.”

The five school board members came forth with four nominees each. Additional appointees came from the Escambia Education Association and the district’s support personnel union.

Here’s the full list of Citizen Advisory Committee members appointed during the April 21 Regular School Board meeting:

  • Walter J. Armstrong-Commander, U.S. Coast Guard
  • Ronnie Arnold-Educator, Escambia County School District (retiring June 2020)
  • Nettie A. Eaton-Retired Educator, Escambia County School District
  • David Elzbeck-President, Union of Escambia ESPs (Education Support Personnel)
  • Jennifer Grove-Vice President, External Relations, Baptist Health Care
  • Donna Harper-President, Escambia Education Association
  • Dr. Joseph Herzog-Chair and Professor, Department of Social Work, UWF
  • Keith Hoskins-Senior Vice President, Greater Pensacola, NFCU
  • Brad Huggins-Engineer, AT&T
  • Willie Kirkland, Jr.-Owner, W.C. Kirkland Trucking, Inc.
  • Dr. Kimberly Krupa-Executive Director, Achieve Escambia
  • Dr. Regina Lipnick-Principal, Escambia County School District
  • Diane Mack-President, Diane Mack Advertising, Inc.
  • Carol McIntosh-Retired Educator, Escambia County School District
  • Chuntell Patterson-Real Estate Professional
  • Russell F. Queen-Principal, Escambia County School District
  • Reverend Carl E. Reeves-Pastor, Greater Mount Lily Missionary Baptist Church
  • Ronald D. Rivera, EMPSA-Director of Development, Chip Simmons for Sheriff Campaign
  • Joe Snyder-Principal, Escambia County School District
  • Mathew Taylor-Assistant Principal, Escambia County School District
  • Robin T. Venettozzi-Retired Teacher, Escambia County School District
  • J. Walker Wilson-Lumber Broker, Bay Lumber Trading 

“We looked at our committee selections very seriously and very diligently and reached out to those people that we thought had the skills to be able to evaluate and they knew our community well enough to know what we were looking for in our next superintendent,” Hightower added.
She says this group will play an important role in the selection of the next superintendent for Escambia County and will not be just another level of bureaucracy.

“This committee will look at the applications. They will do some reference checks,” Hightower explained. “They will submit to us a list of individuals that they think deserve additional consideration. Those will be our semi-finalists, and they will be sent to us in July."

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Archive photo of Patty Hightower, chairwoman of the Escambia County School Board.

At their next workshop in May, the board will discuss the process for determining which semi-finalists become finalists. That selection will be made in August, and that final group will be invited to town for interviews during the last week of the month. Hightower says public input will be welcome all along the way.

“On the evening of August 27, where all the finalists will be there and the public will be invited and they can come in and talk with them. That way they can leave us some input as to which person they thought was the best of the group that was presented.”

The appointing of the Citizen Advisory Committee is the latest development in the superintendent search.

Just a few weeks ago, in the midst of the coronavirus and transition to virtual learning, the school board began advertising the district’s top position.

“We started the advertisements April 1,” said Hightower. “The advertisements went to all the free sites and then last night (Tues) at our meeting, we identified some venues for advertising that cost a little money. So, we’re hoping that we have given enough out to the communities at large around the country; these will be things that people in other areas, besides Florida, would see.”

Hightower expects the first applications to be received by the end of the week and posted on the Superintendent’s webpage, with weekly updates thereafter.  However, the board chairwoman cautions residents shouldn’t expect to see an influx of applications early in the process because the search is being conducted in the “Sunshine.”

“Anytime an application comes in is posted, the whole world knows that that person is applying for a job in Escambia County. So, many of the people will wait until later in the process to put their names in.”

Despite the district’s intense focus on the coronavirus during the past several weeks, Hightower says it has not affected the very detailed Superintendent Search Timeline.

“I had a conversation with our search team and we had a conversation at our workshop, asking that question, you know, ‘Do we need to readjust our schedule.’ But, the search team indicated that we were in a good place in Escambia County because we’re not looking to hire someone until September. “

It’s a relief to have the breathing room, because Hightower expressed concern about the fact that many potential applicants might be consumed with the coronavirus in their current communities, with little time to apply right now or no desire to during a time of crisis.

An aspect not previously considered by the board chair is how applicants’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic might influence the board’s evaluation.

“This wasn’t really high in my brain power as a question, but I think that there will be some information that I will glean from knowing how the person might have reacted in the situation, what did they put in place, think it will be very informative,” Hightower said.

Next on the timeline is a board workshop on May 15 to discuss a process for selecting finalists.  To find out more, the complete search schedule and archives of past meetings are available on the Escambia County School District website. Additionally, Hightower encourages visitors to check out the video brochure that was produced by students at Washington High School.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.