- May 2, 2017
Cathy Mittelstadt will be Flagler County's next school district superintendent, taking the place of Superintendent James Tager, who is retiring at the end of his contract on June 30, 2020.
"I’m not afraid of bringing in and learning from the number one district in Florida, and having that person review our processes. We’ve made strides to get to an A, but we can’t be complacent."
— ANDY DANCE, School Board member
The Flagler County School Board voted 3-1 to select Mittelstadt, a deputy superintendent in St. Johns County, during a special board meeting on March 10. Board Chairwoman Janet McDonald was the dissenting vote.
The board then voted 4-0 to offer Mittelstadt the position, and McDonald phoned her minutes later to tell her she'd been chosen.
The board's fifth member, Colleen Conklin, had applied for the superintendent position herself and therefore did not did not take part in the meeting.
Board member Andy Dance, who made the board motion to select Mittelstadt, said that after he'd interviewed her, one word came to mind: Intense.
"When you have a one-on-one with Ms. Mittelstadt, she is very intense about the things that she’s passionate about," he said, "but it’s very intentional and it’s very engaging."
Dance was also impressed with her experience with using a strategic planning process and with developing additional funding sources like a half-penny sales tax.
And, Dance added, "I made a few calls to other board members and elected officials that have had a good working relationship with Ms. Mittlestadt, so I think it translates to a higher level as well, being able to work with other partners in the community."
Board member Trevor Tucker said he liked Mittelstadt's to-the-point communication style.
"She was extremely knowledgeable. ... She was very strong in her answers; she answered directly," Tucker said, speaking of Mittlestadt's interviews with board members. "I think she would be a great leader in our district."
St. Johns County, where Mittelstadt is deputy superintendent of operations, is one of the top school districts in the state, and has 40 district schools to Flagler's nine.
In her interview before the School Board March 6, Mittelstadt said she'd bring a student-centered approach to the district, and that as someone who's served as a middle school and high school principal, she has a good grasp of day-to-day operational issues. She listed the district's strategic plan and the renewal of its half-penny sales tax as priorities, and said that developing community support for the sales tax initiative could be an opportunity to get community members involved through citizen committees.
Of developing educational leaders, Mittelstadt said she looks for people who have presence in the classroom and step forward for leadership roles.
With all stakeholders, she said, "You’ve got to establish trust. I’m a firm believer in relationships, and I’m a firm believer in first impressions."
McDonald spoke favorably of Mittelstadt at the March 10 meeting, but also expressed reservations about Mittlestadt's lack of past experience with Flagler Schools, which two other candidates — Vernon Orndorff and Earl Johnson — have both had.
Mittelstadt was one of four finalists — the others were Orndorff, Johnson and Janet Womack — with whom the board held interviews with on March 5-6, meeting first as a board with each candidate successively for 1.5-hour interviews on March 5, then for interviews with individual board members on March 6.
Candidates also met with community members during a community forum March 6.
The board had selected the four from a shortlist of nine candidates selected by a community panel, itself narrowed from the initial list of 35 applicants.
"This has been a full community effort, and everyone’s opinions and everyone’s offering have been taken into consideration, and they’re very much appreciated," McDonald said. "... We had four exceptional candidates. It made for a very difficult decision."
Board members shared supportive words for Johnson and Orndorff, but also concerns about whether they would be the right fit for the position.
Orndorff, currently a superintendent of a 250-student school district in Texas, was formerly a Flagler Schools assistant superintendent, while Johnson is the district's executive director of leadership development.
McDonald expressed concerns about Johnson's decision to threaten litigation against a local council of ESE parents which had criticized his candidacy.
Dance, when the district was engaged in the superintendent search several years ago that ultimately led to Tager's selection, had voted in favor of Orndorff, who'd also applied for the position at that time. "That was three years ago," he said. "The district’s changed, but I think the most important change is we have competition this time."
He added that one thing hasn't changed: Orndorff’s integrity and character.
But he worried that either Johnson or Orndorff would be a polarizing choice: Community responses seemed to indicate that the supporters of each strongly opposed the other. If either were chosen, he said, "How we bring everybody back together is a concern to me."
"I have a heavy heart," Dance said after the vote. "These decisions affect people personally — a couple candidates that I’ve worked with daily have been affected — and it’s not a decision that was taken lightly. ... But I’m excited for the path of the district, and I just console the others and ... hope they understand the thought process."
The School Board is expected to vote to approve a contract with Mittlestadt during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. March 17. Mittlestadt's projected start date is June 1.