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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, May 25, 2022 6 months ago

Orange County Public Schools release semifinalists for superintendent position

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Out of 15 applicants, three were selected to go through the next round of preliminary questions
by: Andrea Mujica Staff Writer

Orange County School Board members released the name of the three semifinalists for the superintendent position Wednesday, May 25. 

With the assistance of the Florida School Boards Association, 15 applications were reviewed before naming Dr. Rafaela Espinal, Dr. Peter B. Licata and Dr. Maria F. Vasquez as the semifinalists for the position. 

Espinal has been working in the education field for 28 years, mostly in K-12 education. As a superintendent in New York City, she managed and developed the professional capacity of a diverse group of principals in high-pressure environments and increased student learning and achievement across 36 schools while serving over 24,000 students. She has occupied various positions within the education field, these being that of teacher, principal, district and educational leader.

"I have consistently demonstrated that I am a passionate, accomplished transformational instructional leader devoted to ensuring that all children receive a high-quality education within an academically rigorous, inclusive, and emotionally nurturing community," Espinal wrote on her application. "I have a proven track record of cultivating a culture that supports the district's vision of ensuring that every student has a promising and successful future."

Licata was inspired by the impact his father had in the community while being a teacher and a coach. He spent years building a culture of academic success and safety in the classroom prior to become assistant principal at two different schools and eventually, principal. Licata currently serves as the regional superintendent of the South Region for the School District of Palm Beach county. He oversees 60 schools with 65,000 students, 5,000 teachers, and four instructional superintendents. 

"Every child deserves a great education in a safe and nurturing environment," Licata wrote in his application."It is, and always has been, my desire and willingness to make that happen. I believe the strength of a leader is defined by the challenges he or she accepts and not by maintaining the status quo."

Vasquez comes from a family of immigrants and has spent more than two decades working for the Orange County Public School system. has experience in education at all levels of leadership and across functions, including administration, operations, finance, and teaching and learning. Vasquez is the current OCPS’ Deputy Superintendent and serves 206,000 students across 205 schools, leads 24,000 employees, and manages a budget of more than $2 billion. 

"It is both my belief and my lived experience that all children can learn and excel at the highest level with the appropriate supports, guidance, and relevant learning experiences," she wrote on her application. "In my time as Deputy Superintendent, I have also been tested by crisis and am ready to lead during these unprecedented times for all school districts."

The finalists will submit answers to additional questions this week. Then, the School Board will conduct a work session to discuss the following: interview questions, interview schedules, method and process for selection of the superintendent, contract negotiation items and process; among other items. Timeline for the search process can be found here

For those interested in knowing what will be discussed during the work sessions, these will be live-streamed on the School Board YouTube channel.

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Andrea Mujica is a staff writer for the West Orange Times & Observer, the Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida....

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