Unlike Kathleen Shanahan, Gary Chartrand does not answer to Jeb Bush

By on September 10, 2012

The following is cross-posted from Bob Sikes’s excellent blog focusing on education issues:

I missed a subtlety in Leslie Postal’s Orlando Sentinel story last month that State Impact’s John O’Connor  didn’t. This from Postal’s story about the search for a new commissioner:

Applicants to replace Gerard Robinson, who stepped down after a little more than a year on the job, have until Sept. 27 to get their resumes to the search firm, Ray and Associates, Inc. But board members said they would consider extending the deadline, if needed.

Board member Roberto Martinez said Florida’s top school job requires someone who can navigate the “political process” but what is most needed is a “person with management and executive skills, a professional educator.”

Martinez said Florida has a “very ambitious agenda” for education, shifting to Common Core standards and new tests to replace FCAT, among other challenges.

So it needs a commissioner who can handle that and needs to find that person with “minimal interference from political folks,” Martinez said, adding he made that comment “with respect” for the state’s politicians.

Chairman Kathleen Shanahan and others agreed.

“I would agree wholeheartedly,” Shanahan said. Florida needs “an administrator with experience…Someone who has executed and implemented a plan.”

Board members, who are appointees of the Governor, did not say whether they felt last year’s search was too influenced by those “political folks.”

While Robinson’s appointment was done during Rick Scott’s watch, Robinson is a Jeb Bush disciple. Already one of Bush’s much ballyhooed Chiefs for Change and a member of his foundation’s Digital Learning Council, Robinson was more of Bush’s man than he was Scott’s. The only “political folks” who matter when it comes to state education policy are Bush and his political muscle at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Martinez obviously seeks daylight to develop between the new commissioner and the Bush-Chamber power base.

Conditions for Martinez to get his wish improved yesterday. No longer chair is former Bush chief of staff Kathleen Shanahan as state board chair and her placement is a Scott appointee, Gary Chartrand. Teresa Stepzinski quotes a few key players in state education circles in a Florida Times-Union story:

“Mr. Chartrand’s passion for a quality education is obvious, but he’s walking in to a tough situation where the status quo has become intense pressure from a small group of powerful people to support reform efforts for reform’s sake,” said Colleen Wood, organization executive director. “We are hopeful that he will remain open to the families and educators of the 2.7 million students who choose public schools [and] that he will consider their concerns and recognized their expertise as he leads the State Board of Education.”

Save Duval Schools recently joined other advocacy groups statewide asking Scott and the state board to modify their criteria for Florida’s next education commissioner. Wood said the groups will be “closely watching how Mr. Chartrand leads the board through this process.”

Included in Stepzinski’s story were two positive statement from county superintendents, including St Johns’ Joseph Joiner who said “Mr. Chartrand is an excellent choice as the chairman of the State Board of Education. He understands the needs of school districts and has shown a great willingness to listen. We look forward to his leadership.”

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