Collier School Superintendent Finalist Interviews

Collier School Superintendent Search

Van Zant transcript updated Apr. 29, 2023, 10:41 am; 11:30 am

The Collier School Board held final interviews with superintendent candidates Dr. Leslie C. Ricciardelli and Mr. Charles E. Van Zant, Jr., at a special meeting on Apr. 26. At the end of the meeting, the board voted to move up the vote to choose the next superintendent to Wednesday, May 3, at 5 pm.

In this post, I will share local news coverage of the Apr. 26 meeting, describe the structure of the interviews, share the candidate’s closing comments, provide links to the video recording of the meeting and transcriptions I prepared, and close with next steps.

Collier County School Board

Local Coverage

Thanks to our local media, the public was informed promptly that the final vote to choose the next superintendent was moved up from its previously-scheduled date of May 9 to May 3:

Interview Structure

The structure of each candidate’s two-hour interview, which had been agreed upon by the board at the previous meeting, was reviewed by Dr. Adams of the district’s search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA).

First, each candidate was given up to 20 minutes to present their plan to achieve the board priorities that were set in December 2022. The board was then able to ask questions on the presentation.

Next, the board members had a total of 50 minutes to ask a total of 10 questions, two per board member, on a rotating basis, one at a time. For any time remaining, board members were given the opportunity to ask questions based on responses candidates had provided at the first round of interviews.

The third phase was a scenario that was provided to each candidate 10 minutes before their interview. They were given up to 15 minutes to respond to a six-part “inbox / outbox” scenario in which a number of things go wrong on the same day.

In the last 20 minutes, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask questions to the board.

After breaking for lunch, the meeting resumed with a public comment period, during which about 50 people spoke.

Candidate Closing Comments and Questions

In the final phase of the interview, both candidates made closing comments before asking their questions to the board.

Van Zant Closing

Mr. Charles Van Zant
Mr. Charles Van Zant, Jr.

After thanking the board for the opportunity to interview for the position, Van Zant again told the board, as he had previously, that after retiring from the military, he intended to go in another direction completely. “I never dreamed that my calling to lead a school district would align with a school board’s values.”

He then explained that the only reason he had applied for two other Florida superintendent positions since applying for the position at CCPS was because he had been approached by others after CCPS put his resume online and “there’s some combat veterans on two other school boards” who invited him to apply. “That’s how I ended up in three. You guys put my resume online. So I can’t accept responsibility for that other than transmitting the resume to you.”

He then asked board members the following questions:

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you like to be communicated with?
  • “You had a list of priorities. We went through them. Individually, you got to have one that you’re kind of a little bit more towards [than] another. I think I can guess what Mr. Rutherford’s is, but what would success look like to each of you?”

Read board members’ responses in the interview transcripts linked below.

Ricciardelli Closing

Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli
Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli

Ricciardelli said that, before asking her questions, she wanted to make a statement related to two public remarks made at the April 19 meeting: First, “that my commitment to want to stay here in Collier County reflected a lack of courage to depart and seek a leadership position elsewhere.” And second, “that I needed to go because I was part of the former regime.”

Addressing the first comment, Ricciardelli said, “I’ve devoted my career to this district because of my commitment to the growth, well-being and overall success of students and staff. I have not sought to depart from here because as a professional, I was helping students and staff grow at all levels, and with that, contributed to the increase in student learning and graduation rates.”

“Courage comes from a French word which means heart,” she said, “and I make no apologies for the fact that my entire heart is devoted to this county and this district and leading it in an appropriate and successful manner. I do not need to run to other districts to test myself.”

“Courage is often linked to certain military virtues,” Ricciardelli continued. “During my career in Collier, I have been in the proverbial educational trenches. And when the going gets tough, I do not and never have abandoned the troops when the shelling starts, or run from the trenches just to protect myself.”

Addressing the second comment, Ricciardelli said, “I serve the well-being of Collier County Public Schools. And because I do have integrity, and I am transparent, I want to clearly and unequivocally say that my time spent as a cabinet member in the last administration taught me many things. Two of the most important were what not to do and how not to treat people.

“During the years of the previous administration,” she continued, “my values did not change. I treated people with respect and dignity … and often took positions that were different from the previous superintendent.

“As my bosses, the five of you should know that I do know my role. You are my boss. And just as I did with my last boss, I serve you.”

“With the support of all of you, I have been able to make significant organizational and educational changes in the short period of time I’ve served in this role.

“Finally, it has been central to me to foster a positive and productive relationship with each of you, built on transparency and trust,” she concluded. “My actions and decisions have been and will continue to be future-oriented, taking into account the vision which all of you as a board have so well articulated.”

She then asked board members the following questions:

  • “In 2026, we are scheduled to be debt free, but coincidentally the cost-neutral referendum will end at that time. What are your thoughts and/or concerns about adding another cost-neutral referendum on the November 2024 ballot?”
  • “As discussed in previous board meetings, two new elementary schools are being planned to meet the needs of growth in the Estates. What are the most important aspects you would like to see to make sure are in place to ensure that we are able to successfully complete the task of modifying boundaries?”
  • “As I move forward into the role of a superintendent, what is one piece of advice you would give me?”

Again, read board members’ responses in the interview transcripts linked below.

Recordings and Transcripts

The recording of the Apr. 26, 2023, Special Board Meeting/2nd Round Superintendent Interviews is available here.

  • Ricciardelli recording here (beginning at 2:32); transcript here.
  • Van Zant recording here (beginning at 0:12); transcript here.

Next Steps

The board will hold a special meeting to choose Collier County’s next superintendent on Wednesday, May 3, beginning at 5 pm at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

The meeting agenda is here. Public comments will be heard, after which the board will vote.

The meeting will be open to the public and will also be streamed live on the Education Channel, accessible via the District website and Channel 99 for Comcast, CenturyLink, and Summit Broadband subscribers.

To make a public comment at the meeting, see instructions on the CCPS website here.

To send a comment to the board members in advance of the meeting:

Erick Carter –
Kelly Lichter –
Stephanie Lucarelli –
Tim Moshier –
Jerry Rutherford –

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