ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Orange County School Board have selected Dr. Maria Vazquez to be their newest superintendent, replacing the retiring Dr. Barbara Jenkins, who has been in the role for the last decade.

What You Need To Know

  • Orange County school board is expected to choose between two finalists for superintendent: Dr. Maria Vazquez and Dr. Peter Licata

  • The current superintendent, Dr. Barbara Jenkins, is retiring after 10 years in the role

  • Orange County is the ninth largest school district in the U.S. and fourth largest in Florida

  • The school district serves more than 200,000 students
  • Tuesday's meeting was scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m

School Board members made their decision between two finalists: Dr. Maria Vazquez and Dr. Peter Licata.

After submitting answers to questions, both in writing and via video, the candidates sat for a final round of questioning before the board last week.

Orange County is the ninth largest school district in the U.S., fourth largest in the Sunshine State, and the largest district in Central Florida.

"As the daughter of immigrants, I deeply understand the power quality education has to transform lives," stated Vazquez as she addressed the board. 

In her video submission, she spoke about lessons learned from her Cuban immigrant parents, saying, "Education is the most valuable currency I had and I could not squander it."

Vazquez currently serves as the deputy superintendent of the district and worked as a teacher and school principal for more than two decades.

As for Licata, who would leave his role of regional superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools, it was the death of his longtime teacher father which spurred him to become an educator 25 years ago.

"I made that decision with the commitment to never accept status quo," he said in his video submission. "With an understanding that the role of an educational leader prides himself in innovation and equity and will have a tremendous amount of responsibilities."

Both candidates are looking to lead the ever-growing school district which, with an enrollment of more than 200,000, has a student body the size of a city.

Following the decision, contract negotiations are set to begin right away on Wednesday. And by mid- to late July, the board must approve the contract, start date and transition plan, all in time for a new school year.

Stephana Farrell of Winter Garden, a mother of two elementary school kids, was the first to line up outside Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) headquarters in Orlando so she could speak during public comment. 

“It’s really going to come down to leadership, to making sure that our teachers feel supported, feel wanted, feel like they can be themselves and give all of themselves to our students in the classroom,” she said.

Farrell, who co-founded the Florida Freedom to Read Project, is concerned about new laws going into effect, including one that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, and another that lets parents object to any instructional materials they deem inappropriate. She feels those laws negatively target the LGBTQ community.

“I think what we need most, especially considering the new laws that are coming out, is a superintendent that’s willing to put students at the forefront of every decision that’s made,” she said.

Melanie Williams, who has one son left in the district and is the former president and current member of the Orange County Council of PTA (OCCPTA) is concerned about pandemic-related learning loss and students’ social and emotional well-being. “It has reared its head even more so during the pandemic,” she explained.

Williams says OCCPTA wants to see student retention and attendance addressed. January numbers from OCPS previously reported by News 13 put the daily student absence average at more than 33,000. Pre-pandemic, a spokesperson said daily absences were closer to 15,000.

“We want to develop that purposeful working relationship with our new superintendent so that we can promote these discussions, communications and just to understand our shared goals,” Williams said.

Tuesday's meeting started at 4:45 p.m.

Spectrum News 13 will monitor the outcome and share results.