Florida again will search nationally for a new education commissioner, using a search firm to help it find a pool of candidates, the State Board of Education decided this morning.
Pam Stewart, chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, will serve as an interim commissioner after Gerard Robinson departs at the end of the month, the board also decided.
Robinson, who was hired last year, announced Tuesday that he is resigning.
The State Board, meeting via telephone, decided it would follow a similar plan to that used when it hired Robinson, relying on a private search firm to help it find and vet commissioner candidates.
Board member Sally Bradshaw, echoing comments of others, said it was important that the board "move expeditiously" to find a new schools chief and "that the process not drag on forever."
Last year, 26 people applied for the commissioner job, with the board and the search firm narrowing that pool down to five finalists who were interviewed. The board picked Robinson, then secretary of education in Virginia, the day after those interviews last June.
Chairman Kathleen Shanahan said she suggested Stewart fill in as commissioner on an interim basis to keep projects underway moving. Stewart is not interested, at least at this point, in the job on a permanent basis, she added.
The board will advertise for a search firm as soon as it can, Shanahan said. "We need to find the right person," she added.
Last year, the board paid a firm $30,000 to conduct the search. Board member John Padget said the firm can do behind-the-scenes work and more outreach to candidates than board members can on their own, as they cannot discuss that work with each other outside a public meeting.
Robinson, who started work last summer, said he is leaving because his wife and two young daughters have remained in Virginia and that has proved too difficult a challenge for his family. His wife is a law professor at the University of Richmond and was unable to land a comparable job here.
Shanahan said she understands Robinson's desire to be an "active, involved, daily parent in his children's lives" and praised the work he had done in the past year.
In a year of "updates, revisions, decisions," she said, "he led the system successfully."
Robinson presided over state education at a time of controversy, as it moved to toughen scoring on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and impose higher standards on its A-to-F school grading system.
Robinson, the education department and the state board faced fierce criticism as they made those decisions and then weathered FCAT writing scores that were dramatically lower than expected and the miscalculation of some school grades.
During all that, said board member Barbara Feingold, "Gerard was a phenomenal leader this past year."
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