Nikolai Vitti accepts offer to become Duval County superintendent

Published On: Sep 25 2012 09:45:01 AM EDT
Updated On: Sep 26 2012 12:49:33 AM EDT

New Duval County Superintendent Nikkoli Vitti says the county's schools are good, but that he wants to make them great.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Nikolai Vitti has accepted an offer to become Duval County's next superintendent.

He will now begin contract negotiations with the Duval County School Board, which voted 5-2 Tuesday afternoon to offer him the job.

"Duval is in a great position here to go from good to great, and I feel that I'm the right candidate to take us to the next level," Vitti said.

Vitti, chief academic officer of Miami-Dade schools, was one of three finalists interviewed over the last two days by board members. Kriner Cash received the other two votes.

The board voted for the 35-year-old Vitti to take over as superintendent when Ed Pratt-Dannals retires at the end of the year.

"We're talking about 125,000 young people who are depending on us as a board to select a leader who is going to take us into 21st-century learning," School Board Chairwoman Betty Burney said during the interview sessions. "So this is extremely crucial, and we need to ask every question we can to ensure we have the right person and the right fit."

Last month, the board narrowed the field to Cash, outgoing superintendent of Memphis, Tenn., School District; Dale Robbins, retired associate superintendent of the Gwinnett, Ga., School District; and Vitti.

During the interview process, Vitti emphasized that he's worked in various positions with the school system, including as a teacher, administrator and principal, and saying that he understands all aspects it takes to be successful.

"I have done it. I have been a teacher. I have been a principal. In the era of accountability, where my job was on the line, if I didn't produce, that was significant and meangingful."

"I believe Dr. Vitti is a rising star, and I think we're very fortunate to bring him to Duval County if he works out this contract agreement with us, because I think this county is on the threshold of greatness," School Board member Tommy Hazouri said.

Community members, teachers and students had a chance to talk to all three of the candidates on Monday.

"It's a good feeling, exciting, but of course challenging," Cash said after his interview on Monday. "It's going to always be challenging, a large school district."

The questions from community members ranged from management style to technology in schools. Each candidate outlined his vision for Duval County.

"Well, I think my top priority always is trying to make sure we can establish a good culture of continuous improvement and collaboration," Robbins said. "I think those are key pieces that anyone who might come in as superintendent wants to listen well rather than come in and start announcing or dictating any kinds of a program."

The candidates made it clear they all wanted to bring change to the district, and they all described their different plans for the future.

"Well, I want to drive home that I have a track record of raising student achievement, and I think that at the end of the day, parents want a leader that has demonstrated effectiveness," Vitti said.

The candidates also emphasized that if selected, they would be here to stay.

"My son right now is in fourth grade in Miami, and if given the opportunity to be superintendent, he will certainly be in a Duval County Public School, and I hope to be here long enough to see him graduate from high school here," said Vitti, a father of four.

"Well, I think my thinking is after 36 years as an educator, I want my last job coming up, not my next job," Robbins said. "So you want to find that place where you feel like you can make a meaningful contribution and not be thinking, 'OK, where do I want to go after that?'"

Robbins was the only candidate who considered himself a "true" Florida outsider. Vitti and Cash both have experience working within the state's school system.

That's experience, however, they feel is a benefit.

"There are more opportunities here than challenges," Cash said. "Challenge is everywhere, but there's far more opportunities here, but we've got to go forward. There's a tipping point right now."

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