The Lee County School Board made a concerted effort to reach a consensus on a new school superintendent, and though it took a while, it did just that.
The board unanimously selected Dr. Nancy Graham to replace Dr. Joseph Burke, who will step down June 19, and with the district in need of someone to fill that position, it acted on the matter quickly.
Graham will be the first woman to ever lead the Lee County school system, and the board hopes she can bring the district into a spirit of healing and continuity after two years of tumult.
"We brought ourselves to the table in a team atmosphere and we did what we needed to do going forward," said board chair Mary Fischer. "It was important to come to a consensus and show stability and forward movement."
"She can shine like a star and build a team like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were able to do," board member Jeanne Dozier said, who had to be swayed to vote for Graham.
The position could be considered interim, since the length is only one year, during which the district will follow through on a nationwide search to find a more permanent replacement, which could be Graham if she exceeds the benchmarks that are set after she takes office.
A request for proposal (RFP) is required to hire a search firm. The process for finding a firm, screening candidates and and hiring one is estimated to take about a year. Meanwhile Graham can put her hat in the ring to become a permanent candidate.
Graham will be able to form her own team and make decisions on who will work where, since the board also voted 3-2 to eliminate all director, executive director and coordinator positions effective July 1 so Dozier and her team could decide who belongs where.
Fischer said despite possible fears that some of those directors could be fired, nobody is expected to lose their jobs.
"It will make the new person feel as if she has the support behind her," Dozier said. "We want to set the person up for success."
Graham, principal at Naples High School since 2006, was named over five other candidates to the position. Graham was a finalist for the job in 2011 and worked 16 years in the Lee County system, including stints as principal at Dunbar Middle and Cypress Lake High schools, before going to Naples.
At the start of the meeting, board member Don Armstrong went outside the box and nominated two non-candidates - Burke and Dr. Alberto Rodriguez - to be named interim.
When that didn't fly, as did the idea of hiring someone for just three months, the board reached an agreement on what kind of candidate it wanted.
"We need someone who's decisive, charismatic and will work closely with administration and the district," Fischer said. "The candidate needs to instill confidence in the community."
From there it was who to hire. In the first vote, Michael McNerney got three first place votes, until Armstrong changed his vote to Graham, which opened things up.
It eventually came down to Graham and McNerney, a former Lee Chief Administrative Officer, who is retired.
Board member Cathleen O' Daniel Morgan and Dozier were moved to come to Graham's side and reach a consensus.
Graham was praised by several after the decision, as was the board.
"It's a historic day for Lee County. Finally, a woman superintendent. Racial and gender diversity is important," said Anthony Thomas.
"I'm proud you picked someone we can have continuity with. She has knowledge in the district, and for students, we need someone like that," said Susan Prock, a 35-year educator.
The board was also full of praise for Graham.
"We've had enough disruption and we're ready for stability and to help the kids and staff," Fischer said. "She has a strong understanding of the organizational framework."