Where Peter Licata, Broward schools’ next superintendent, stands on top issues

Licata, who has pitched himself as well-versed in Florida’s legal and educational environment, calls his new position a 'dream job.'

Peter Licata speaks to principals on June 14, 2023.

Peter Licata speaks to principals on June 14, 2023. Gerard Albert III/WLRN

After a monthslong national search process, the Broward County School Board (BCSB) has picked its next permanent leader, Dr. Peter Licata.

A Broward native and career educator who has spent 29 years working in the neighboring School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC), Licata has called his new position a “dream job.”

Licata pitched himself as a transformational leader who is well-versed in Florida’s legal and educational environment — and Broward’s singularly tumultuous political landscape. He’s been after the top job for years — Licata has applied to at least 10 other superintendent searches in Florida and elsewhere.

In conversations with principals, parents, community advocates and school board members, Licata has spoken broadly about his educational philosophy and his prescription for lifting BCPS from a B letter grade to an A.

Here’s where incoming-Superintendent Licata stands on some top issues.

Getting to an A: Licata says expanding the district’s offerings for advanced coursework (AP, IB and AICE classes), industry certifications and dual enrollment programs will help lift the district to an A grade.

“Teachers deserve an A here, parents deserve an A, administrators deserve an A. But there's two columns [in the state’s rubric] you're not very good at … middle school acceleration — which would be industry certifications and algebra — and high school acceleration,” Licata said. “This is part of the formula to make Broward an A.”

Closing the achievement gap: Asked what he would want his legacy to be as superintendent of BCPS, Licata said it would be closing the achievement gap.

“Do not lower the standards. Put your resources in places that need it … You have some folks that feel like if you create equity, you're taking something from them. No you're not. You're just making sure everyone else has that same level playing field,” Licata said. “So that's my idea of equity — not lowering the standards … you can't raise the floor by lowering the ceiling.”

School safety: Licata has taken a broad view of school safety, speaking not only about securing school buildings but also the importance of student mental health and emotional wellbeing. Licata says he’s open to using more metal detectors in schools — as SDPBC is testing — and open to considering whether BCPS should build out its own police force, as the Miami-Dade school district has done.

“Safety is also a culture. It's a culture to make sure everyone understands that they're responsible for it — from the bus driver who's trained in safety and mental health all the way to the cafeteria staff, custodians, the teachers. And making sure that children understand they have open avenues to reach whoever they need to to talk about. That has to change in some schools," he said.

School choice: Licata previously worked as SDPBC’s assistant superintendent overseeing choice and career options, which included charter schools. He says families deserve to have meaningful choices — especially those zoned for schools that are failing.

“I'm not anti-charter, I'm anti-bad schools … And we can't afford to have bad schools anymore,” Licata said. “I believe … the playing field should also be level. The requirements of all schools … when you put a child in that school, you should be required the same as every other school — with safety, with accountability, teacher certification.”

Politics in education: Asked about state efforts to restrict how race, identity and history can be taught in the classroom, Licata said “schools are not places for political attacks” but acknowledged public districts must comply with the law.

“I am not breaking the law. I may not like the legislation. But I'm not breaking the law. If I don't like it, we'll get out there and change it, if it's not good for children. And that's our role too,” Licata said. “Remember, all politics are local so let's stay involved in it … let's be out in front of it as much as we can.”

Changing district culture: School board members made it clear they wanted an outside candidate who could shake up a district culture that they say is toxic. Concerns include a pattern of dysfunction and mismanagement, and in some cases, bribery and corruption.

“I will create the same culture that I've created everywhere I've been — a culture of accountability, a culture of similar mission and vision, and a culture focused on children,” Licata said. “It starts with modeling. I will never ask any staff member to do something I will not do myself.”

Next steps for Licata

Licata was scheduled to be back at BCPS headquarters this week to negotiate his contract with district officials, including his pay, benefits and starting date. The school board is scheduled to hold a special meeting next Thursday to vote on the finalized contract.

This story is published as part of a collaboration with WLRN NewsKate Payne is WLRN's education reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org

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