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Published: 6/18/2010

TPS board trims list of candidates to 2 finalists

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
TPS Board chose Jerome Pecko, left, and Tom Watkins as final candidates for the TPS superintendent position. TPS Board chose Jerome Pecko, left, and Tom Watkins as final candidates for the TPS superintendent position.
PAUL TOPLE / AKRON BEACON JOURNAL Enlarge

Hoping for a fresh financial start, the Toledo Board of Education chose two superintendent finalists this week to vie for the top job - one an experienced former superintendent from the Akron area, and the other a businessman and education consultant who once served as Michigan's top public education official.

Board President Bob Vasquez and other board members said the two candidates were invited to enter the next phase of the process, which could include a series of public hearings and private meetings with Toledo's opinion leaders. Mr. Vasquez said the exact process would be laid out at Tuesday's regular school board meeting. Board members want someone in the job by next month. Superintendent John Foley is scheduled to leave at the end of July.

The two candidates are:

•Jerome Pecko, ex-superintendent of Springfield Local Schools near Akron. He's considered a traditional candidate with a back-ground in K-12 education administration.

•Tom Watkins, Michigan's former state superintendent of public instruction and a longtime education official. He's considered a nontraditional choice. Mr. Watkins has experience in business and consulting and is president and chief executive officer of TD&W and Associates, an educational consulting firm.

The contrast demonstrates the five-member board's willingness to look at an unorthodox option as it prepares for what could be a sweeping overhaul of Toledo Public Schools operations.

At the same time, the board recognizes the need for someone with experience in the highly politicized world of running a public school system and working for an elected school board.

Board member Jack Ford, Toledo mayor from 2002-2006, said he thinks each candidate "can handle the job." He said he wants them to discuss their managerial wares through a "mixture of public hearings as well as meet-and-greets." He said they should meet with Toledo's opinion leaders, including officials from the Greater Toledo Urban League and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Those two groups are key if a planned November levy is to pass. The groups came out strongly against the May 4 TPS levy, which failed by a wide margin. The failure prompted deep cuts to TPS programs and the probable layoff of several hundred teachers and employees for next school year.

Since then, there has been a buzz for the school board to embrace or expand more innovative programs and to consider a nontraditional candidate from business or higher education.

"I think looking for someone outside the box is a good idea. But it still depends on who that candidate is," said John Jones, the urban league's president. "I think one of the biggest questions to ask is, 'What kind of new and innovative things are they willing to do?' Doing it the traditional way obviously hasn't produced the best results."

He said successful programs, such as single-gender academies and Toledo Early College High School, for example, could be expanded.

"Would there be support for those kinds of creative programs?" Mr. Jones asked.

Mr. Pecko could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Watkins said Thursday he considers himself a "hybrid" candidate with experience in business and education.

He served from 2001-2005 as Michigan's state superintendent of public instruction. Before that, he led an economic development committee in Palm Beach County, Florida. The group of CEOs that made up the Economic Council of Palm Beach County backed a school levy that passed in 2000, he said. "Education and economic activity are inextricably linked."

School systems across the country have hired nontraditional superintendents with mixed results.

Erica Lepping, spokesman for Broad Urban Superintendent's Academy in Los Angeles, said the best school leaders are able to combine business acumen and strong leadership with traditional expertise in education and the navigation of local politics.

"We realized that skillful teachers rise up through the ranks and become superintendents," Ms. Lepping said. "But their skill set is in teaching and learning, and not management skills." She said most local education leaders have little trouble with modern theories of teaching; it's the execution, moving large groups of people toward a stated goal, that becomes the stumbling block, she said.

"They can be brilliant at strategy, but what they're not as good at is execution," she said. "MBAs and business and military leaders - that's what they do. They're the best in the country."

On the other hand, those with corporate or military backgrounds need to learn how to navigate local politics from those with traditional education backgrounds. They teach each other, she said.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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