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Education Commissioner candidates face state board

By Lynn Hatter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-974481.mp3

Tampa, FL – The Florida Board of Education has interviewed five candidates for the position of state education commissioner. Whoever is chosen will lead the state's public school system. Lynn Hatter reports, the candidates were chosen from a pool of 26 applicants from across the nation.

The board allowed up to an hour per person for interviews and they first heard from was Ohio's Dr. Stacia Smith, former Associate Superintendent of Dayton Public Schools. Smith says while Florida has a great education system, it can do better. One area she says could use some work is the state's pre-kindergarten program.

"First of all I think we need to work with our parents to understand the importance of under five, what needs to occur under five to get kids ready for school. I think that all day preschool should be offered to parents, not just through head start, but through the public schools."

Next up was Bret Schundler. He's the former mayor of Jersey City and New Jersey's former education commissioner. Schundler was considered a rising star in the world of education and incorporated many of Florida's education ideas like teacher merit pay, etc in his state's 400-million dollar bid for the federal Race to the Top education grant. But an error in the application caused the state to lose out on the money and Schundler was fired. The board asked him to address what happened.

"I and the staff at the New Jersey department of education made an error by omitting 08-09 spending data that was specifically solicited in question F1. That cost us critical points. We were the runner-up state. And I can guarantee you that I will never make that error again."

Florida's Loretta Costin is also in the running. She's been with the state Department of Education for more than 25 years, and is currently serving as Florida's chancellor of career and adult education. Costin played up her longevity in the system and her knowledge of the state and its leaders.

"There would be no learning curve with me. I mean, you could pass the baton to me tomorrow and I would be ready to pick it up and run the race to win."

Meanwhile Thomas Jandris billed himself as a hybrid candidate. He's worked in public schools, is currently serving as Vice President of Concordia University's graduate programs and runs an education consulting form. He helped create Florida's school grading system and worked on the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And when it comes to public education, Jandris says there's a fine line between college and career readiness and employment.

"It's one of those phenomenon's that I would describe as necessary, but not sufficient. College and career readiness is necessary, but it's not sufficient. College and career readiness is necessary, but sufficient. The issue is employability and meaningful employability and preparedness for a lifetime of flexible employability.

The Board's last candidate of the day was Gerard Robinson. He's currently Virginia's Secretary of Education. Early on Robinson said he would not apply for the job, but changed his mind after the deadline for applications was extended. He says he's willing to negotiate and talk with different education groups, but is also able to put his foot down when needed.

"Stakeholders to me are those who want to find common ground to work together on a number of initiatives like what passed here, which are charter, virtual , teacher merit pay and others. But there are some people in politics, who will drive a hard stake into the ground, and be un-flexible about anything at all costs and I'll have conversations but there will come a point where we'll have to move forward."

The board is meeting again on Tuesday. It will review the candidates and could choosing one of them to be Florida's next education commissioner.