After a nearly three-hour executive session Tuesday evening, the Beaufort County Board of Education voted 6-5 to hire Frank Rodriguez as the school district’s next superintendent.
Rodriguez is currently a regional superintendent for the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida, the 10th largest school district in the nation. Rodriguez’s region of the district serves 58,000 students, more than twice the 22,000 students in Beaufort County’s district.
He was chosen by the board as a finalist April 6, along with Terry Dade, assistant superintendent of Region 3 in Fairfax Public Schools in Virginia.
“I just want to say we had two very strong candidates for superintendent,” board chairperson Christina Gwozdz said. “It was a very difficult decision for the board to choose one over the other.”
Gwozdz and fellow board members David Striebinger, Tricia Fidrych, vice chairperson Cathy Robine, Rachel Wisnefski and Melvin Campbell voted in favor of making an offer to Rodriguez.
Members Earl Campbell, Richard Geier, secretary William Smith, John Dowling and JoAnn Orischak voted against.
After the vote, Robine made a motion for the board to “respect the will of the majority” and pledge to work with the superintendent.
The board accepted that motion unanimously.
Rodriguez will take over for interim superintendent Herb Berg, who was hired in 2018 to lead the district through the board’s search to replace former superintendent Jeff Moss, who resigned in May 2018, a year before his contract expired.
Moss’ five-year tenure with the district ended after allegations of nepotism, state ethics violations, two failed bond referendums, an ongoing FBI investigation into his involvement with a controversial education group and connected to the construction of two Bluffton schools, as well as a general loss of public trust in both the district and the school board at the time.
Among the challenges ahead for Rodriguez will be to garner voter support for a future bond referendum, address the achievement gap between white and minority students, and find sustainable and sensible solutions to overcrowding at Bluffton schools.
On Saturday, Dade and Rodriguez spoke at a forum, where both answered questions submitted by the public. and expressed a strong desire to work in the Beaufort County school district.
“I fell in love with the place,” Rodriguez said at the forum.
The length of Rodriguez’s contract, including his annual salary, have not yet been negotiated by the board and are expected in the next few weeks, according to school district spokesperson Jim Foster.
The position, however, was advertised as paying in the range of $225,000.
If he accepts the offer, Rodriguez would likely be expected to start July 1, Foster said.
This past fall, executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates conducted several town halls and focus groups in the county to learn what qualities the public wanted to see most in the next superintendent.
At Saturday’s forum, community trust and the importance of honesty and integrity in leadership emerged as running themes in the questions the finalist were asked.
More than 100 people applied for the superintendent position, according to Foster.
The search firm narrowed that field to 48 candidates, from which it selected nine to present to the board. The board interviewed seven, including Dade and Rodriguez.