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Interim Superintendent Will Tackle Finances, Achievement

Dr. John A. Stewart says the biggest challenge facing Pinellas County Schools is improving student performance without spending a lot of money.

It's no secret that the Pinellas County School District has been in a state of turmoil for the past few months. The school board in August, and the poor economy has forced painful budget cuts.

But now the school district has a new leader at the helm. Dr. John A. Stewart, a former deputy superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, will fill in until a new superintendent is hired.

Stewart, who is 67, agreed to come out of retirement to help the school district out.

“When they proposed an opportunity for me to come back, I said, 'Yes, I’d kind of like to do that,' ” Stewart said. He says he because he likes Pinellas County Schools and had a great experience working for the district from 2000-03.

Stewart knows he faces a difficult task, even though this is only a temporary job for him. He says the No. 1 issue facing the district is finances. 

"If you get a different answer from the other 66 superintendents, I’d fall off my chair," he said. “The other issue is student achievement, and the two are married at the hip."

Stewart says when it comes to student achievement, the challenge is to find ways to improve performance without spending a lot of money. "You get that by looking at how things are done in the classroom – for the kids, by the teachers and the support that they get from their administration,” he said.

Stewart pointed out that school districts have experienced financial difficulties in the state before, but not for such a prolonged period of time. He says that many teachers have had to take on second jobs to make ends meet. The growing number of single-parent families is another issue facing the district.

With the recent change in district leadership, Stewart says he has the task of developing a consensus, improving the work environment and building on the success all of the outstanding programs that are currently in place. 

Stewart says that when it comes to solving big problems like these, he often refers to a favorite book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. He cites a passage in the book, "Seek first to understand before you are understood," which he says is a good mantra to follow.

Stewart also says, “I’m kind of a transparent fellow. I think what you see is what you get.”

In addition to serving as interim superintendent and deputy superintendent for Pinellas County Schools, Stewart has been a teacher, high school principal, deputy commissioner of education for Florida and executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA).

The has not yet said exactly how long it will take to hire a new superintendent. But Stewart has already figured out what he will do when his temporary gig is over.

“My next career move will be to go back to Polk County and retire,” he said with a smile.

John Stewart's Bio

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