Sarasota Schools posted its superintendent candidates. Meet all 20.
Herald-Tribune | By Steven Walker | May 26, 2023
As the Sarasota County school year ends, the school district’s superintendent search is heating up, as it published a list of all 20 candidates for the open job this week.
The collection of 20 applicants includes widespread geographical representation, including from California, Illinois, Texas, Mississippi, New Jersey, Colorado and Florida, among others. Only one current Sarasota district employee applied — the district’s current interim superintendent Allison Foster, whom the School Board appointed following the removal of Brennan Asplen in December.
Asplen’s removal came following a conservative-leaning makeover of the board caused by the 2022 elections. Minutes following the new majority being sworn in, the new board moved toward terminating Asplen, who had been with the district since 2020, later prompting criticism that the superintendent’s treatment would make it harder to recruit a high-level education administrator.
The applicant pool includes current and former superintendents, charter school executives and high-level district administrators. Several applicants are also candidates for other school district superintendent openings in Florida.
One applicant was fired from his superintendent position in North Carolina, while another was accused of plagiarizing research, but later cleared. Another applicant has appeared on Fox News several times to discuss parental involvement in education.
Below are brief, alphabetical summaries of each candidate.
Wayne Alexander, who was the superintendent of Hernando County Public Schools from 2007 to 2009, is the principal of a school in Connecticut and sat on the board of a now-defunct Hernando County charter school.
He holds an education doctorate from Nova Southeastern University and applied for superintendent openings in Charlotte, Osceola and Broward counties.
Christopher Burr was the superintendent of the Upper Rio Grande School District from 2016 to 2021. Burr stepped down, and a Change.org petition exists from that time with more than 250 signatures asking for him to be removed on grounds that he “created confusion, chaos, avoidable injuries, and division among the community.”
Burr was earning his education doctorate from Nova Southeastern University and is currently a middle school principal.
Nicola, or Nick, Campagna holds a master’s degree in curriculum and supervision and superintendent certification from Central Connecticut State University.
He’s been the principal of several public schools in the New England area and was also an applicant for Broward County’s superintendent vacancy.
Terrence Connor has been deputy superintendent and chief academic officer at Hillsborough County Public Schools since 2020, and has held positions in schools and the district level in Clay and Duval counties dating back to 2004.
He holds a master’s in administration and management from Nova Southeastern University.
Margarita De La Rosa
Margarita, or Maggie, De La Rosa, currently serves as the chief of strategic initiatives for the Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas, which serves about 25,000 students.
She holds an education doctorate from Southern Methodist University, and her dissertation topic was on successful superintendent and school board relationships.
James Drake was an associate superintendent handling human resources and finances for the Gonzales Unified School District in California from September 2020 until July 2022.
He holds an education doctorate from Northern Illinois University and also applied for the superintendent vacancy in Broward County.
Allison Foster is the current interim superintendent in Sarasota County and was the director of human resources before being appointed to the district’s top position.
She holds an education doctorate from the University of Florida and was also the principal of Phillippi Shores IB School from 2008 until 2021.
Ken Goeken is the director of special education and support services for the Rocklin Unified School District in California.
He holds an education doctorate with a focus in special education from Northcentral University and also applied for the superintendent vacancy in Broward County.
Kelly Linkenhoker is a public school principal in Virginia and was an assistant superintendent for Buena Vista City Public Schools from July 2020 to June 2021.
In May, she is set to earn her education doctorate from Vanderbilt University. Linkenhoker also applied for a superintendent position in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Krish Mohip is the deputy education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education and was previously the chief of schools for Chicago Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country.
Mohip is set to earn an education doctorate from National Louis University. He was also a finalist for the superintendent position for the School District of Philidelphia.
Mathew Neal is the president of MRJB Educational Consulting and has served as a superintendent in Colorado and for American IB schools in Kuwait.
Neal holds an education doctorate from the University of Southern California and has appeared on Fox News to discuss parental involvement in education. He was also a candidate for a superintendent position in Billings, Montana.
Virgilio Ogando has worked in administrative roles at several Catholic schools in New York and was also the religious education director at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in St. Cloud.
He holds a master’s degree in building leadership from Mercy College and is a candidate for Broward County’s superintendent vacancy.
Wanda Paul is the chief operating officer of the Houston Independent School District and held the same position at the School District of Palm Beach County from 2018 to 2021.
She holds a master’s in business administration from the University of St. Thomas and a master’s of education from National Louis University. Paul is also a candidate for Broward County’s superintendent vacancy.
Josiah, or Joe, Phillips is the chief information officer for Broward County Public Schools and held the same position at Volusia County Public Schools from June 2021 to April 2022.
He holds an education doctorate from Liberty University.
Adam Pugh was the superintendent of Lafayette County Schools in Oxford, Mississippi, from 2011 to 2021, where he led the district to several consecutive “A” ratings.
He holds an education doctorate from the University of Mississippi.
Marianne Simon is the elementary region superintendent at Duval County Public Schools and was a principal in Duval County from 2007 to 2019.
She holds an education doctorate from the University of North Florida and was a finalist for the superintendent vacancy in Collier County.
Art Stellar was a superintendent at Burke County Public Schools in North Carolina from 2009 to 2011 and Taunton Public Schools in Massachusetts from 2005 to 2009. He was fired from his position in Taunton following complaints about his management style and inability to connect with teachers, parents and students, according to a news account.
His resume states he holds three degrees from Ohio University, but doesn’t specify further.
Charles Van Zant
Charles Van Zant was the superintendent for the Clay County School District from 2012 to 2016, and was a school board member in Clay County prior to his time as the district’s top administrator. Van Zant was reported to have been investigated by the Florida Ethics Commission in 2017 following allegations by a former high school principal who accused him of plagiarizing her research, which led to him getting a professional certification that resulted in a salary increase.
The commission cleared Van Zant of wrongdoing.
He holds a master’s in organizational leadership from Regent University and is a finalist for Collier County’s superintendent vacancy.
Melissa Whitfield currently serves as the superintendent for Berkely Heights Public Schools in New Jersey, and was the superintendent of the Florham Park School District in New Jersey from 2015 to 2019.
She holds an education doctorate from the University of Georgia.
Caprice Young has served as a superintendent for several charter school districts in California dating back to 2010 and founded the California Charter Schools Association. She was also a school board member for the Los Angeles Unified School District from 1999 to 2003.
Young holds an education doctorate from the University of California.