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Retired educator: Wary welcome for new Duval Schools' superintendent, Christopher Bernier

Rhoda London, Guest columnist

Published in The Florida Times-Union,

June 9, 2024

I watched the May 23 meeting at which voting was held for the new superintendent of Duval County Public Schools.

I was impressed that all board members seemed to have spoken to previous employers and others who had worked with both candidates in an open search. Also, all expressed appreciation to community members who had participated in the selection process and to Dr. Dana Kriznar for her leadership as interim superintendent during the past difficult year.

Although the vote was 7-0 in favor of Dr. Christopher Bernier, two members were extremely impressed with the other final candidate, Dr. Daniel Smith. His intelligence apparently caught their attention, and both described him as "a visionary." One of the two supported Dr. Bernier in the end, primarily because he is from Florida and is well-acquainted with navigating the difficulties of education in our state.

The other member who also leaned toward Dr. Smith felt it important for the board to come to a unanimous decision supporting the new superintendent. Both were, however, impressed with Dr. Bernier's efforts to seek advice and rebuild his Lee County school system after a recent hurricane.

I mention this because too many Florida leaders win by a marginal amount and act like they won by a landslide. Dr. Smith had a huge amount of support from those who objected to Dr. Bernier's endorsement by state Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, who represents Gov. Ron DeSantis (and — in my mind — much of what is wrong with education in Florida).

The 7-0 vote for Dr. Bernier shows the board is thinking about what is needed right now, as opposed to investing in the future with Dr. Smith.

An important message that came out of the meeting is acknowledgement of the wide chasm within our educational community. All of us were encouraged to put our politics aside and work with our new superintendent so he'll stay awhile, instead of extending the revolving door pattern experienced in recent years.

I happen to be one who was disappointed for political reasons in the selection of Dr. Bernier. However, I agree that we need to do better in uniting for the good of Duval County students.

So, welcome to your new position, Dr. Bernier. I wish you the very best — but I will be watching to see if the transparency and communication that occurred during your selection process continues as we move into another new era of educational leadership.

Rhoda T. London, retired educator of 43 years, Jacksonville

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union.


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