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Broward School Board selects 7 semifinalists for superintendent. Who’s your favorite?

Nearly three months after first taking applications for a new superintendent, the Broward School Board picked seven semifinalists on Monday to move forward in the search.

Here’s what to know:

The semifinal candidates

Peter Licata, regional superintendent at Palm Beach County Schools.

Wanda Paul, chief operating officer for the Houston Independent School District and a former facilities and operations chief for Palm Beach County Schools.

Jason Nault, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, equity and accountability at Waukegan Public Schools in suburban Chicago and a former Broward principal.

Rituparna (Rita) Raichoudhuri, former superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools in Michigan.

Sito Narcisse, superintendent of East Baton Rouge School District in Louisiana.

Valerie Wanza, the acting chief of staff at Broward County Public Schools who has been with the district since 1992 and served as superintendent for a few days earlier this year after former superintendent Vickie Cartwright left.

Luis Solano, deputy superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The superintendent search

From early March to late April, 26 people applied for the job. But only 15 met the job qualifications. One dropped out, so the board could only consider 14 candidates. Because of the limited options, the board reopened the application window for a week May 9-16. During that second time around, five more people applied, but only two qualified.

In total, 31 people applied, and 16 qualified and stayed in the running for the top job of the sixth largest school district in the U.S.

Picking favorite candidates

At a special board meeting Monday, each of the nine School Board members picked their top five candidates out of those 16. Then David Azzarito, the district’s executive director of human resources and equity at the Broward school district, tallied the votes each semifinalist got.

Solano got 9 votes, Licata 7 votes, Wanza 6, Nault 5, and Narcisse, Paul and Rituparna all got 4. To see a breakdown of which candidates each board member chose, click here.

Jesús Jara, the superintendent at Clark County School District — the fifth-largest school district in the country — considered applying but then decided not to.

What’s next in the Broward Schools superintendent search?

Board member Nora Rupert looks through notes on the candidates during a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com
Board member Nora Rupert looks through notes on the candidates during a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com

The seven semifinalists from Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana and Florida will now submit videos of themselves answering three questions in nine minutes by Thursday. The board will get the recordings Friday, then meet again May 30 to discuss the detailed process and vote on finalists.

According to the School Board’s set schedule, finalists will participate in community focus groups and meet with the nine board members one-on-one on June 14.

The board will name the next superintendent June 15.

According to John Sullivan, a school district spokesman, the candidates will answer these three questions:

Please describe your administrative experiences and background that have prepared you for the position of Superintendent of Schools in Broward County, the sixth largest school district in the country.

Just recently, as a result of unprecedented rainfall in Broward County, many of the schools experienced significant water damage due to flooding. Schools and District offices were closed for two days. Please describe how you would have addressed this issue through your leadership skills.

Should you be appointed as the next Superintendent of Schools in Broward County, please describe your 90 day transition-in plan.

What board members want in the next superintendent

Chair Lori Alhadeff gives a briefing after a Broward Country School Board meeting on seminfinalist candidates for superintendent on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com
Chair Lori Alhadeff gives a briefing after a Broward Country School Board meeting on seminfinalist candidates for superintendent on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com

The School Board on Monday didn’t discuss which candidates they wanted. Afterward, Allen Zeman, from the countywide seat 9, described the semifinalists as “very, very solid” and said the board didn’t talk much because they had already decided.

“We each did our homework, and we came in with the list of people we thought were most qualified,” he said.

Asked what he’ll consider the most when hiring a superintendent, Zeman said he wants someone who can handle carefully new laws coming from Tallahassee.

“I think the most appropriate question for the candidates is, ‘How do you get right up to the line of what the law or the statute says that we’re allowed to do,’ ” he said. “We cannot violate the law. We cannot violate the statute. But we can go up to the line.”

Board member Dr. Allen Zeman talks during a press conference after a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com
Board member Dr. Allen Zeman talks during a press conference after a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com

He followed up with an example, referring to the so-called Don’t Say Gay law: “How do you make sure that LGBTQ students feel whole? They’re people not gay people, not bisexual people — people. And how do we make sure that they feel like people and they’re not traumatized by this Legislature?”

Zeman also wants an outside candidate who will change Broward County public schools, which have been rated B for the past 11 years. Lori Alhadeff, the chair of the board, agreed because she wants someone with new ideas.

Neither voted for Wanza, the only internal semifinalist.

Additionally, Alhadeff said the new superintendent should be someone experienced in a large school district.

“For me, it’s really about the candidates being able to tell me how they’re going to handle certain situations ... like COVID or a threat at a school,” she said. “I want to hear about their leadership and how they’re actually going to take action and handle those issues.”

School Board member Jeff Holness listens during a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com
School Board member Jeff Holness listens during a Broward Country School Board meeting discussing candidates to move forward as semi-finalists in the superintendent search on Monday, May 22, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale. Alie Skowronski/askowronski@miamiherald.com