Winnowing process begins in school superintendent search

Sanibel Captiva News | By Meghan Bradbury | January 25, 2022

The School Board of Lee County interviewed five superintendent candidates via Zoom last week, asking each the same questions and providing an opportunity for opening and closing comments.

On Jan. 24, the board was scheduled to look to narrow that field to three finalists during a briefing meeting, with a vote to come as soon as today, Jan. 25, during its action meeting.

The five candidates interviewed were Christopher Bernier, Michael Gaal, Randy Mahlerwein, Charlie “Jeff” Perry and Michael Ramirez.

Berneir has been the chief of staff for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, since 2019. During his opening remarks he told the board that they “truly have an amazing school district.”

“Having been a native of Florida for more than 30 years, it was an opportunity of a lifetime when I saw the job advertised,” he said.

Berneir told the board that they would not find anyone else with a better work ethic, or more creative. He said that his integrity is one aspect that is nonnegotiable and described himself as a hands-on servant leader, as you cannot work from a perch and know what is taking place.

“You have to get on the ground with the people to fully understand what is transpiring,” Bernier said.

Ramierz, a deputy superintendent of schools for Denver Public Schools since 2019, said he is a value-based leader who believes in the power of relationships.

The candidate said he is grounded in love, listening, leading and learning.

“Love and respect is the only way that I know. I have stayed true to core values and differences. I have built trust and relationships. I love and listen. I listen authentically with my eyes, understand and pay attention to how they say it. I lead with grace under fire … leading with passion and energy,” he said.

Ramierz shared a glimpse of his childhood, sharing that he was born and raised by two incredible Puerto Rican parents and coasted through school until an 11th-grade teacher challenged him, giving him the confidence and inspiration to do more.

“I am driven by my personal story. I have a track record of academic success in Colorado and Florida,” he said, adding that he is a champion for all students.

Mahlerwein has been the assistant superintendent for secondary seventh through 12th grade for Mesa Public Schools since 2020.

“I have been a career educator for 26 years,” he said, adding that he will always provide authenticity. “I believe in a different kind of leadership. I believe in empowerment, integrity, ownership.”

Gaal, who became the president of sales for Beable Education in Lakewoood, New Jersey, in 2021, said he recently left his current employer after submitting his application to the board, as he wants to become a potential leader instead of enduring another sales pitch.

He said he arrived in Fort Myers to understand a little more about Lee County, as well as immersing himself in school board meetings. Gaal said he also reached 81 different school sites and campus, which really has made him excited about the district.

After retiring as an U.S. Air Force colonel, he came to public education where he continued team building and collaborating.

“I am not your traditional candidate,” Gaal said, adding that he likes to challenge the status quo and look at the equation at all sides. “Students deserve us to think harder to ensure they are ready for their future.”

Perry has been the district superintendent for Hamblen County School District in Morristown, Tennessee, since 2017. He said he has been a public school educator for 35 years, 18 at the superintendent level.

Perry said he has an intimate knowledge of how schools work. He said the further you get away from the classroom, the less you are able to create effective strategy to go in and change something.

“If you don’t have that knowledge, you are never going to be successful,” Perry said.

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