Published in the Osceola News-Gazette- Around Osceola on Saturday, Janurary 30, 2016.
Debra Pace has been a student, parent, teacher, principal and administrator in the Osceola County School District.
And, beginning on March 21, she’ll complete the full educational circle and become its superintendent.
According to a proposed contract with the district, Pace will leave her Brevard Public Schools post as the assistant superintendent of human resources on Feb. 29 and begin a consultant role before taking the job full time after spring break.
Current Superintendent Melba Luciano, who announced her retirement last year, will remain with the district through the end of her contract on July 31.
“They’re still working on what the job titles will be,” Pace said. “I’m letting the lawyers figure that all out.”
The two have already worked closely together in the Osceola district, serving as top administrators. While Pace was the district’s deputy superintendent for secondary curriculum from 2008-11, Luciano was the assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum, both reporting directly to the School Board during that time.
Luciano said she can’t wait for Pace to arrive in March.
“We had many years of working together even before she joined the district office,” Luciano said. “This is going to be a smooth transition because we respect each other, and she’s walking into a great situation. I’ve always enjoyed working with her, and I want to be here to support her.”
They will essentially flip roles in April. Luciano will spend the final four months of a 37-year education career working on tasks Pace won’t have time to devote full attention to, such as a county-wide literacy initiative and other curriculum-based projects.
Pace said her excitement when she received the news of getting the unanimous nod from the School Board has only increased in the last week.
“That’s how it is when you care this much about these kids in your community, your neighborhood, your hometown,” said the St. Cloud High School Class of 1981 alumna. “Once I find my way, it’s going to be 24/7 about this. I’m more excited every day for this opportunity, and I’m ready for the challenge it’s going to be.
“This is where my heart is. I truly believe my career path led me here; certain doors opened at just the right time. The community’s support during this process has been tremendous, as well as that from internal and external stakeholders. Now I’m going to be counting on their help to do some very important work.”
That may have been what she spoke of during her interview with the School Board in December, when she told the board, “I can’t do this by myself.
“Everybody thinks they’re an expert on education, because everybody went to school. There is no silver bullet to achieve the kind of excellence I and the board are committed to getting to.”
As an example, she lauded the county’s recent graduation rate increase to 80.6 percent.
“If we want to be the best, we must examine the best and set our goals to reach them. St. Johns County is at 90 percent. How do we get to 90? We can’t do it today or tomorrow but we can do it if we set it as the goal and push ourselves to get there. Seminole is at 86, how can we get there in two years, and get to 90 in five? We have to keep moving forward toward something.”
Pace said she isn’t planning on easing into the superintendent role. In fact, she said not to expect to see her in the office in March, and it’s going to be “go-go-go” through the spring and the summer so that the 2016-17 school year can get the best start it can.
“I’m going to be spending a lot of (March) in schools, meeting all the new faces in the district,” she said. “March through May is going to be tight but busy, and the summer is going to be a critical time to establish what the focus will be in a lot of areas. That’s when we’ll have our strategic planning sessions to make sure all our plans are working by the end of the summer and ready for the fall.”
Pace and School Board member Ricky Booth are first cousins — their mothers are Partin sisters, a longtime Osceola ranching family — and they made no secret of it during the selection process. Pace said she has put aside allegiances throughout her career in education.
“I taught at Poinciana for 10 years and then was the principal with those same teachers, so it was friends one day and their boss the next,” she said. “At Harmony, my son was a sophomore and my daughter a freshman when I got there. In human resources in Brevard County, I’ve had to make that separation, all the time. I’m confident that Ricky and I will both be able to do that act with the focus on what’s most important for students.”
Job interviews will continue at the district level. Osceola County is in the process of finding the replacement for Chief Financial Officer Todd Seis, who left on Jan. 1 to become the Seminole County School District’s director of finance.