Superintendent finalists make their case to St. Johns County School Board, residents


St. Johns County residents gathered Nov. 1 to hear Tim Forson and Dr. Vickie Cartwright – the two finalists for the superintendent search – discuss why they’re best suited to lead the school district in addressing challenging issues like growth.

Board Chairman Patrick Canan opened the public reception at First Coast Technical College in St. Augustine by introducing both candidates and asking them a group of questions. Each candidate separately completed this interview process in front of the more than 50 residents in attendance and then met with some of the residents afterwards.

“It was a great opportunity for us to see both of the candidates,” said Tina Waldrop, a St. Augustine resident. “Both have great insight into our school district.”

The new superintendent will replace Dr Joseph Joyner, who is retiring after 14 years of service in the position.

Forson recently retired after serving as deputy superintendent of operations for the St. Johns County School district since 2011. Prior to that role, he served in the school district for 26 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal before serving four years as executive director for facilities and operations.

“What I do know is St. Johns County, and I know it well,” said Forson. “I would not have applied if I didn’t truly believe that I could make it happen and do it to the best of my ability and continue the school district on the path that it’s on.”

Cartwright is currently senior executive director for exceptional student education for the Orange County Public Schools. She previously served that school district as senior director for accountability, research and assessment; senior administrator for data, analysis and reporting; program specialist for exceptional student services; and as a music teacher. She has also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida.

Prior to working in Florida, Cartwright served school districts in Mississippi and Texas as a band director, assistant principal and principal.

“Having different perspectives can allow you to ask different questions and allow people to think about solutions a little bit differently than what they have done in the past,” said Cartwright. “I’m not coming in here to change. I’m coming in to build those relationships, to have that collaborative leadership style and to continue the momentum that has been built.”

The candidates agreed that growth is the school district’s most pressing issue, with Cartwright calling it a “wonderful problem to have.”

“Families have that much trust in the school district that they want to come here,” she said. “They value the education so much that they seek out St. Johns County. It’s an exciting dilemma.”

Both candidates said a thorough review of funding and revenue sources is necessary in order to face the issue appropriately. Forson said the district has to consistently engage state funding sources for those schools with high growth. Cartwright said the district has to look at five- and 10-year projections to understand the capacity trend and budgetary needs moving forward. She specifically mentioned reviewing operating costs such as transportation, gas and construction to ensure value is being gained in every dollar spent, and suggested engaging in practices like recycling at construction sites to save money.

St. Johns resident Jim Wheeler said he doesn’t know if either candidate has all of the answers concerning growth, but he’s confident in Forson’s experience in the district.

“I think Mr. Forson has an advantage because he has seen the growth over the last 10 years,” said Wheeler.

Waldrop said she feels the same way.

“I think Tim has a great handle on that growth,” said Waldrop. “He knows the school district, he knows the town and he has a good handle on how to process that.”

The school board said it plans to select the new superintendent the week of Nov. 7 and enter into contract negotiations throughout November and December.