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Veteran Is Interim Schools Chief

The Pinellas County School Board voted 6-1 to make John Stewart interim superintendent for Pinellas County Schools.

A veteran Florida school administrator will take the place of ousted Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Julie Janssen.

The School Board voted Tuesday to approve the contract of Dr. John Stewart as interim superintendent for Pinellas County Schools.

He temporarily replaces Janssen, who was . Stewart officially starts Saturday.

Stewart, 67, has a long history of service in area school systems. He was deputy superintendent of Pinellas County Schools from 2000-03 and the superintendent of Polk County Schools from 1983-96. He also served as deputy commissioner of educational programs for the State Department of Education from 1998-2000.

For the past seven years, Stewart has been the executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The vote should restore a measure of confidence in the county school system, since the board voted to terminate her contract as the new school year started.

Right after Janssen’s dismissal Aug. 23, the board said it would consider bringing in Stewart on an interim basis.

It wasted no time on Tuesday. Despite emphatic opposition from community representatives who called for a more involved selection process, Stewart’s nomination received a 6-1 vote of approval. The lone dissenting vote was from board member Linda Lerner.

“I think there are so many good things about Pinellas County Schools … and I’m anxious to come back and build on those and make Pinellas County proud of itself,” Stewart said following the meeting.

Lerner’s opposition to Stewart’s selection was, like many others who spoke at the meeting, not based on his qualifications, but on the failure of the board to engage in an extensive selection process.

“If we approve this contract, we are going against all we stand for,” Lerner said. “This is not a process. What does it say about our district if we won’t even consider anyone from our district?”

Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, agreed.

“There are 13,000 employees right now who are waiting on a contract, as well, and I wanted to talk to you today because of our frustration with this process, or lack of process,” Black said. “I’m asking you to look at the decision-making process that you have in place and talk about things, have a conversation. We want to know that we are heard, and the employees are counting on you.”

But the board voted to approve Stewart’s appointment.

 “I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time in the process of determining who’s going to be our interim when I believe the focus should be on who’s going to be our superintendent,” board chairwoman Carol Cook told the assembled crowd moments before the motion to accept Stewart’s contract was passed.

For her part, Cook shot down the suggestions that hiring Stewart was based solely on her recommendation.

 “There seems to be a perception out there that this is my candidate. This is not my candidate. However, I do support Dr. Stewart as our candidate,” Cook said. “I believe he can step in and not only help us move forward, but also move forward in the direction we want to go.”

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