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As schools prepare to reopen to students, Florida's superintendent shuffle doesn't appear to be going away

In the past 12 months, 16 districts have hired new superintendents
Posted at 8:11 PM, Aug 03, 2023

At a recent rally against the state's new social studies curriculum, approximately 75 people showed up in front of the Duval County public school district headquarters to protest the new standards.

The curriculum includes instruction to middle schoolers that some slaves benefited from the skills they learned while they were enslaved.

The new standards are among the latest string of school controversies in a state criticized for injecting partisan politics into student education.

The results, critics said, have contributed to ongoing classroom culture wars, a worsening statewide teacher shortage and a superintendent shuffle that isn't going away.

In just the past three years, more than 45 of Florida's 67 school superintendents have left their position as top bosses on campus. It's the highest turnover of superintendents in Florida history.

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"I've spoken to superintendents outside of Florida, and when they find out I'm from Florida, they're like, 'I don't know how you do it,'" explained Kurt Browning, who has led Pasco County Schools for the past 12 years.

Browning is one of the state's 29 elected superintendents. School boards appoint the remaining 38.

Browning, a former Florida secretary of state and Pasco County elections supervisor isn't new to the whims of partisan leadership and political agendas. But he said what began with COVID-19 mandates over distance learning and school masks has morphed into local school districts losing control to state politicians who, he believes, are seeking too much of it.

"Leave us alone and let us educate our kids. You've already approved the standards," Browning said about state leadership. "We know what needs to be done. Just let us do it."

In the past 12 months, 16 Florida districts have hired new superintendents.

At least three school districts are starting the new year without a permanent replacement.

In the past year, several Florida superintendents have been booted out by school boards that flipped to a conservative majority after the last election.

Former Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins retired from the county last year. She is currently the chief in residence for Chiefs for Change, an education leadership program. Jenkins expects Florida's school leadership crisis to worsen.

"I think you'll see fewer experienced and qualified individuals heading to Florida, perhaps because of some of our controversy here," she said.

"Yeah, it's a highly controversial atmosphere that we're living in now," Bill Montford, Florida's Association of District School Superintendents CEO, said.

The state association helps train and recruit new superintendents in the state.

Montford said he's been in touch with the governor's office and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz about the state's ongoing superintendent shuffle. However, he isn't blaming Gov. Ron DeSantis or his administration.

"I think it will be very difficult to lay that fault on the leadership of the state solely," he said. "Public education has always been on the frontline of controversies."

After over a decade, Browning is retiring at the end of next year. He said his decision results from multiple factors, including age and family.

"When you know, you know," he said.

But Florida's current political climate also makes it a little easier for him to know.

"I don't think superintendents need to be micromanaged. I really don't," he said.

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