New Hillsborough Schools superintendent's contract approved during very nice hearing

With a unanimous vote of the Hillsborough County School Board, Jeff Eakins got a promotion today.

The acting superintendent, who has been serving in the capacity of superintendent in the wake of MaryEllen Elia's dismissal, will get to keep that job; the signing of his contract, $225,000 salary and all, made it official at a regular school board meeting. Eakins's wife was in the audience, as were his parents, who came down from Ohio for the occasion.

“[It's] kind of a dream come true in my life and every day I will never forget where I came from and everyone who has served me throughout my career in order to place me, really, here today,” Eakins said.

The discussion over his contract was a conversation that starkly contrasted the heated debate over the firing of Elia, his controversial predecessor, as was the contract itself, as board member April Griffin pointed out. 

“I'm so happy to see that it's nothing like the last one,” she said. “The benefits package alone is a great savings to this district. It's clean, it's simple, and it is led with, again, putting the students first. And that's what, I think, nobody understood before when we were having this discussion.”

Griffin, one of Elia's biggest critics, said she appreciated Eakins' collaborative approach and desire to invert the district's current model, by prioritizing students above all else.

“We have some issues where our culture is concerned," she said. "We've got to make it fun again. We've got to bring the creativity back to the classroom again.”

Board member Cindy Stuart said she also found the approach refreshing.

“Jeff has a really unique vision for leadership in this district," she said. "It's a great fit. It has plans for moving us forward. It partners with the board. Leadership that shows students first and students at the top of our work chart.”

Highlights of Eakins' contract include lack of a bonus or incentives, an annual $225,000 a year salary (compared to Elia's $270,000-plus), benefits that are in line with those of other districts throughout the state and an initial two-year contract that, instead of automatically renewing like Elia's had, would require an annual vote after the two-year term expires in 2017.

One of the former skeptics of the board, Melissa Snively, was one of two members that had wanted a national search for the new superintendent. Snively was elected in November, and said she has in recent weeks come around to supporting Eakins' leadership.

"I will admit that I was skeptical at best, coming in as a new board member, because I hadn't had the opportunity to work with Mr. Eakins like many people had," she said. "But what I was overwhelmed by was the positive feedback that I listened to and received by so many people who had had the opportunity to work with Mr. Eakins over his tenure in the school district."

Discussion of the board's vote, unlike that dealing with Elia's contract, was also relatively brief. Only a couple of people lined up to speak during public comment.

“We're moving in the right direction. We've eliminated all the problems, supposedly, we've gotten rid of everybody ... now let's move forward,” said Joe Robinson, former head of the Hillsborough NAACP. “Give the man his $225,000. Give the man his contract. Quit horsing around. Vote for him now. Let's get him in, let's get this over with. I'm tired of hearing it.”

The board's unanimous approval of his contract was met with cheers and applause.

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