Collier School Board Selects Superintendent Search Finalists

Collier County Superintendent Search

Dr. Leslie C. Ricciardelli and Mr. Charles E. Van Zant, Jr., were selected by the school board as the two finalists after publicly-held interviews with four semi-finalists on Apr. 19.

For background, see my Apr. 12 post, Collier School Board Selects Superintendent Semi-Finalists.

In this post, I begin by sharing the very limited local news coverage of the Apr. 19 meeting. Then I share what I learned from Googling the finalists. Importantly, I share links to transcripts of the board’s interviews with the two finalists using an online transcription service,

The transcriptions are admittedly less-than-perfect. But the candidates’ responses reveal important differences in their views of the role of public education, their knowledge of how to be an effective school district administrator, and more.

I think it is important for anyone who wants to learn about the candidates, especially the school board members themselves, to read this written version of both candidates’ responses.

The board will interview the two again on Apr. 26 and make their final decision on May 9.

Local Coverage

Local news reported the names of the finalists chosen and recaps of their resumes, but little information or insight about what the candidates revealed in the interviews.

Collier County School Board down to 2 finalists for superintendent, by WINK News, had the most information:

  • “‘I am encouraged to see traditional and conservative values returning to Florida schools,’ Van Zant wrote in his application.”
  • “‘They need caring leadership,’ Van Zant said. ‘That doesn’t mean we coddle people, that doesn’t mean we lower standards, but that means they have to understand that somebody cares about them, and somebody is going to take the big picture view, prioritize what you, this elected school board, is charged with doing.’”
  • “Ricciardelli wrote in her application that she has worked to ensure all students receive the support and resources needed to succeed, regardless of their background or ability.”
  • “‘One of my passions has always been the high school graduation rate,’ Ricciardelli said. ‘So, I have taken time in the past to go meet with students who… finally passed that ELA assessment, when I knew they’ve tried so many times and they’ve worked so hard because I knew about it from either their principal or someone else. Or, I take the time to go meet with students because I’m worried about them or concerned for them.’”

Collier County School Board selects two finalists for superintendent. What we know, by Naples Daily News, named the finalists, provided bullet-point recaps of their work experience, links to their applications, and a link to its previously-published Q&A with Leslie Ricciardelli, interim superintendent of Collier County Schools.

Fox4Now and Gulfshore Business provided even less.

That’s the state of local journalism today.

Googling Ricciardelli

Soon after being named interim superintendent, Ricciardelli was interviewed by NBC-2 (here). She said at the time and has said since, “Collier County is not a stepping stone for me. It’s not a retirement plan for me. It’s my home. So, whatever happens, I accept — if it’s me I’m thrilled, if it’s not me, I am going to be fully supportive of the person who comes in.”

Other than that, I found no additional information that might be useful in evaluating Ricciardelli as a candidate for this position.

Googling Van Sant

A Google search turned up articles about Van Zant’s service on the Clay County, FL, School Board (1998-2012), his one-year term as an elected superintendent (2012-2016), and his defeat in a 2016 bid for reelection. The following information gleaned from them left questions unanswered. Hopefully, answers will be provided in the second-round interviews tomorrow.

School Prayer; Religious Beliefs

During Van Zant’s last several years as a School Board member, the Clay County school district was involved in a debate over the permissibility of praying around the flagpoles of district schools. At the time, Van Zant said the average Clay County citizen supports Rev. Baker’s right to pray and more than “two-thirds support prayer in schools.” (Christian Post)

During his 2012 campaign challenging the then-incumbent superintendent, Van Zant said, “I will always defend the constitutional rights of students and parents. If parents want to say a prayer with their student before they go to class they should have that right.” (

While not specifically asked about it, Van Zant referred to the flagpole prayer matter in response to an interview question about provisions he had made “for morals and ethics” in Clay County when he was superintendent. “Nobody was proselytizing. Nobody was taking kids off the bus or out of the YMCA Prime Time, out of the cafeteria. And all of a sudden that became a big deal.”

In his run for reelection in 2016, Van Zant mentioned his religious beliefs in robocalls he made to district parents. According to WJCT News, he said that “historical precedent supports his right to talk about his religion, even as an elected official. He points to the Declaration of Independence’s mention of ‘the Creator’ as an example.” (WJCT News)

Ethics Complaints; “Acrimonious Behavior”

In 2013, one year into his term as superintendent, Van Zant participated as a panelist in a “Dare to Think” conference on teaching American history and the role of the Bible in public education. His comments led the majority of school board members to vote to file an ethics complaint about his co-sponsorship of the conference. Van Zant said he acted properly within his authority as superintendent and in accordance with district policy. (The Florida Times-Union)

Van Zant lost his 2016 re-election bid “by an overwhelming margin,” according to The Florida Times-Union, “amid a state investigation into plagiarism accusations, other unethical behavior allegations, and a history of acrimonious and combative attacks when criticized or questioned.”

“His tenure has been marked by contentiousness routinely played out at School Board meetings,” The Florida Times-Union continued. “Van Zant regularly responded with exasperation and agitation when faced with criticism. He’s vented exasperation with some School Board members, teachers, union officials and parents.”

Further, according to the same article, “teachers said … Van Zant consistently treats them and support staff with disrespect, is indifferent to their needs and concerns, and essentially is a bully leading by intimidation.” highlights Van Sant’s military service and commitment to civic duty. His Home page summarizes him this way: “Charlie has defended our country overseas, and responded to state disasters including hurricanes and wild fires here in Florida. He has served our children, families and citizens’ as a Florida School District Superintendent. He has been a staunch advocate for protecting parental rights, and the innocence of children. He is the right leader for such a time as this.”

The Interview Process

All four candidates were asked the same interview questions by the school board member named in parentheses:

  1. Please take up to three minutes to share with us something we probably do not already know that will help us better understand who you are as a person, your leadership style, and your integrity. (Lichter)
  2. Please begin by defining the qualities that you believe make a successful superintendent/board relationship. Then we would like to know a bit more about how you propose to work with us when things get tough, especially when faced with controversial issues. (Lichter)
  3. What would you do to recruit both instructional and non-instructional personnel? (Carter)
  4. What would you do to retain both instructional and non-instructional personnel? (Carter)
  5. We experienced a low literacy rate because English is not the first language for almost 50% of our students. How would you approach this issue? (Rutherford)
  6. Phonics and cursive writing are high priorities for having the best education. Explain your position and experience in this area. (Rutherford)
  7. It is important for our students to be heard and understood. Can you please tell us how you will reach out to and connect with our students? Please give an example of strategies that you would use to ensure that our students’ voices help direct their instructional and learning journey. (Lucarelli)
  8. I would like you to describe your leadership and management philosophy. (Moshier)
  9. What are your leadership strengths and weaknesses? (Moshier)
  10. Over the last 10 years, morale in the district has steadily declined. How would you propose increasing district morale? (Lichter)
  11. What kind of staff development program would you develop for the teaching staff and for administrative staff? (Carter)
  12. In our Student Conduct Policy, over a dozen character traits or virtues are listed that we want our students to emulate. What provisions have you made for morals and ethics in your district? (Rutherford)
  13. How will you determine success as a superintendent in the next three to five years? And how will you share and explain this with the community? (Lucarelli)
  14. How would you implement short and long-term range district goals? And how would you monitor and evaluate their implementation? (Moshier)
  15. Could you please give us an example of a situation in which you made a decision that resulted in negative reactions from stakeholders? How did you handle it and what would you do differently if you could go back? (Lucarelli)
  16. What kind of decisions or responsibilities do you delegate to others? How would you monitor the performance of those who are responsible? (Moshier)
  17. Because the superintendent candidate pool was narrowed down to a field of four, stakeholders may take the opportunity to criticize each candidate and provide reasons why you should not be awarded the position. If you could speak directly to the detractors, what would you say to them, why should you be awarded the position, and what sets you apart from the other candidates? (Lichter)
  18. Please spend just the last bit of time telling us why you want to be our next superintendent, or if you have any questions for us. (Lichter)

The Transcripts

Watch the Ricciardelli interview recording here (beginning at 1:18:45); read the transcript here.

Watch the Van Zant interview recording here (beginning at 3:32:50); read the transcript here.

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