Polk teachers rally; interim superintendent named

- Polk County has a new interim superintendent of schools after the former resigned at the end of an investigation clearing her of sexual harassment.

Jacqueline Byrd will be elevated from deputy superintendent, and is the first African-American to lead the district.

Almost immediately after her appointment, teachers - who are in the midst of negotiations over a new contract - stepped to the lectern Tuesday to let her know the honeymoon was over.

"I am not getting what I need emotionally," said one. "I am not getting what I need respectfully to be able to continue to do my job well."

Teachers also held signs and protested before the meeting.

Interim superintendent Byrd was accused by the union of not returning calls to discuss their new contract. The difference between the union's budget requests and the schools' proposal is millions of dollars apart.

Negotiations stalled as the board dealt with the resignation of former superintendent, Katheryn LeRoy over.

"I am a big believer in, 'you have to move forward,'" said Marianne Capoziello of the Polk Education Association. "The shadow only lasts as long as it has to."

In an interview, Byrd made clear she is ready to lift the shadow.

"There are conversations we can't discuss right now, but we are listening (to the teachers), and we are trying to figure out what we can do," she explained.

Byrd said she will visit each school as a show of support, rather than to micro manage. She pledged to put the focus back on students.

"There is a lot of unrest right now," she said Tuesday. "We just need to take a deep breath. We are going to be OK. Take one day at a time. Let's all work together, as you heard today, we need to come together."

Until a replacement is named, Byrd's interim contract allows her to serve indefinitely, and to apply for the job if she wants it.

"At this point, I don't have a desire to (apply), but I am committed to this district to do what I need to do to help them move toward locating a superintendent. And not only that, doing what I need to do for the students in the community," she said.

The board originally said she could only serve six months, and banned her from applying. However, they admit these searches can take time, and if they like the job she does, they want the option to keep her.

The search officially begins on Monday, March 1.

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