Broward school board reopens search for next superintendent

A day after the leading contender expressed interest in the job, he backed off, leaving the school board back at square one.

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The Broward County School Board is reopening the search for the district’s next superintendent.

That’s after a new candidate — the sitting superintendent of the Clark County School District, Dr. Jesus Jara — came forward following the application deadline closing. Home to Las Vegas, the CCSD is the country’s fifth-largest school system.

By Wednesday, however, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Jara had changed his mind and wants to stay in Nevada. 

In a statement to the newspaper, “Jara said that — while he was ‘urged’ to apply for the job — he ultimately had informed the Clark County School Board that he would remain in the district ‘to continue the work I started five years ago,’ ” according to the story.

School Board Chair Lori Alhadeff had revealed at a meeting this week that Jara had given her a call and asked to be considered.

The revelation that a sitting superintendent of one of the country’s largest school districts has his eyes on Broward clearly caught the interest of multiple board members, who called his resume “outstanding.”

“We've talked a lot about trying to find someone that has very similar characteristics, someone who's been a superintendent of a large school [district],” said Board Member Allen Zeman. “I don't know Dr. Jara, but I would be interested to learn more about him.”

According to the agenda for the meeting, the school board had been poised to select finalist candidates on Tuesday, to move forward with background checks and interviews and then vote on the district’s next leader next week.

Instead, after a lengthy discussion, the board voted to reopen the application window to allow other potential candidates to apply – with a new deadline of May 16.

Here’s the new search timeline the board approved:

  • May 16 — application deadline
  • May 22 —  school board meeting to select semifinalists
  • May 26 — deadline for semifinalists to submit video statements
  • May 30 — school board meeting to select three semifinalists
  • June 14 — finalists visit Broward County for meetings with stakeholders, principals and community groups, and one on one meetings with board members
  • June 15 — school board meeting to select superintendent

Initially, the district received 26 applications by the original April 27 deadline. According to the search firm hired by the district, McPherson & Jacobson, only 15 were qualified for the post. Of those, the consultants recommended only six to move forward.

Some board members had harshly criticized the initial applicant pool as “weak” and unimpressive.

The search consultants said Florida’s bitterly partisan education politics are driving away promising candidates.

“We do have a terrible reputation,” said Lourdes Diaz, a resident of Pembroke Pines and a local Democratic party activist. “If I were a superintendent, and this was a job opening, I would be afraid to take it. We’ve already fired two [superintendents].”

But board members remain hopeful that they can find an “innovative” and “transformative” leader who’s ready and willing to take on the unique challenges of the nation’s sixth largest school district.

“Maybe that’s the icebreaker,” Zeman said of Jara’s interest. “Maybe we’ll have some others from top-size school districts that decide to come here and take this amazing job.”

Alhadeff made clear at this week's meeting that she wants Broward’s next leader to come from outside of the county. That’s a clear knock at the only internal candidate to apply — Dr. Valerie Wanza, the district’s Acting Chief of Staff, who briefly served as superintendent after Dr. Vickie Cartwright left the top job.

“I feel that personally that it should be an external candidate to come in to try to change the culture, someone with a new perspective,” Alhadeff said.

This story is published as part of a collaboration between City & State Florida and WLRN NewsKate Payne is WLRN's education reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org

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