Three outsiders chosen as Broward superintendent finalists
South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis | May 30, 2023
The search for the next Broward schools superintendent is down to three candidates, and one of them is not longtime administrator Valerie Wanza, an employee favorite.
Each School Board member picked up to three people among a group of seven semifinalists to choose as finalists. After a lengthy and heated discussion over the process, including failed motions to expand the finalist pool to four to include Wanza, the School Board ultimately agreed to stick to three. They are:
- Peter Licata, regional superintendent, Palm Beach County Schools, received six votes (from Lori Alhadeff, Brenda Fam, Sarah Leonardi, Norah Rupert, Debbie Hixon and Daniel Foganholi).
- Luis Solano, deputy superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, also received six votes (Jeff Holness, Alhadeff, Fam, Hixon, Leonardi and Rupert).
- Sito Narcisse, superintendent, East Baton Rouge School District, received five votes (Torey Alston, Allen Zeman, Alhadeff, Fam and Foganholi).
Wanza, the district’s chief of staff, placed fourth after receiving four votes — Alston, Foganholi, Hixon and Holness.
Other eliminated candidates were Jason Nault, an associate superintendent in Waukegan, Ill.; Wanda Paul, chief operating officer for the Houston Independent School District; and Rita Raichoudhuri, former superintendent in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Numerous public speakers, including principals, labor representatives and some members of Broward’s Black community, urged the board to choose Wanza. Four employee groups and Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley sent board members letters of support for Wanza.
“We have a true leader in Dr. Wanza. She has the innate ability and capacity to run this district and she’s done it over the years,” said West Park Mayor Felicia Brunson, who said she has known Wanza since childhood.
But several School Board members said it was important to find an outside candidate to try to change the culture in the Broward School District.
“Dr. Wanza has a tremendous amount of support here in Broward County Public Schools, and she’s an amazing person,” Alhadeff said in a news conference after the vote. “Unfortunately, she didn’t get enough votes to move into a finalist rounds.”
The board’s decision angered many public speakers. Foganholi proposed expanding the pool to four finalists, but all other board members except Alston rejected that.
“It seems Dr. Wanza is being tormented because of who she was under,” said Chandra Evans, a positive behavioral specialist with the district, referring to previous superintendents who were forced out.
The selection of Narcisse as a finalist also generated controversy. His East Baton Rouge school district participated in a controversial event last fall called “Day of Hope,” which received numerous complaints that it featured religious content and discussions related to rape, suicide, gender and LGBTQ issues that many parents complained were inappropriate, according to reports.
“I really hope that you guys look into one of the three finalists Dr. Narcisse, and whether he’s appropriate for Broward schools,” public speaker Marc Paige said.
Narcisse sent the board an email recently addressing the event.
“Please allow this communication to serve as verification that alleged issues surrounding the Day of Hope were investigated by independent counsel and it was determined that Superintendent and staff adhered to policy and protocol in the authorization of the event,” the statement said.
The votes on Tuesday came after board members watched videos the seven semifinalists created. They were asked to introduce themselves, discuss their priorities for the first 90 days and explain how they would manage an emergency such as the widespread flooding in Broward that shut schools down for two days in April.
The three finalists are scheduled to appear before the board for interviews starting June 14, with the superintendent chosen June 15.