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Palm Coast Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 2 weeks ago

Superintendent search committee shortlists nine candidates, including Orndorff, Conklin, Johnson and Mittelstadt

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The Flagler County School Board will make its final selection on March 10 and approve a contract March 17.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

A citizen committee selected the names of nine applicants for the school district's superintendent position — including four with close ties to the Flagler County School District — Feb. 11 to present to the School Board for additional consideration.

The top scorers when the committee narrowed down the 32-candidate list (it started at 35, but three withdrew) were Vernon Orndorff, a former Flagler Schools assistant superintendent who is now a superintendent in Texas; Cathy Mittelstadt, a deputy superintendent in St. Johns County; Earl Johnson, Flagler Schools' executive director of leadership development; Colleen Conklin, the current Flagler County School Board member and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University assistant professor who has stepped away from the board in order to apply for the superintendent position; and Janet Womack, an educational consultant in Texas and former superintendent of a district in Alabama.

Orndorff and Mittelstadt received votes of support from 14 committee members, Johnson earned 12, Conklin earned 10 and Womack nine, each clearing the 50%-support mark from the committee (19 of the citizen committee's 20 members were present or submitted a list of names). 

To broaden the number of names that will be forwarded to the School Board, the committee also opted to include the names of the four candidates who received eight votes: Jeff Reaves, the principal of Matanzas High School; Ron Wagner, a Minneapolis school district associate superintendent; Eric Jackson, principal of a high school in Sarasota County; and Matthew Lutz, the assistant superintendent of a school district in North Carolina.

The meeting, which was the citizen committee's second and final session, was led by Florida School Board Association consultants John Reichert and Bill Vogel. 

Several members praised the experience of Mittestadt and Orndorff. 

Committee member Jearlyn Dennie said she was impressed by Reaves, the Matanzas principal. But Katie Hansen, the head of the district's teachers union, said the while Reaves had done a "fabulous job" as principal, he had no district-level experience, and "that’s a giant leap, from principal to superintendent."

Dennie said she had not been been impressed by Orndorff — that she'd called up people he worked with, and "got one positive out of four or five phone calls," she said. 

But other committee members, including Hansen, spoke highly of him. Retired teacher Jill Woolbright, who is running for the School Board District 1 seat, noted that Orndorff had included a letter of recommendation from Sen. Travis Hutson. She added that she'd spoken to people in the district about him, and “didn’t get one negative,” but the opposite. Committee member Garry Lubi said that his experience with Orndorff had always been "top notch and first class, all the way.”

Several committee members said they had reservations about applicants who'd retired elsewhere and might be more likely to leave soon after being selected, and about applicants whose experience was with districts with much smaller student populations. 

The committee's list will be officially submitted to the School Board at its Feb. 18 meeting. The board will meet on Feb. 25 to identify finalists.

View applicants' application materials at https://flaglerschools.com/school_board/superintendent_search (applicants number 3, 12 and 32 have withdrawn).

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