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Dade Board Looks Inside To Tap New Superintendent

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Less than a day after it was sworn in, the new Dade County, Fla., school board, in a unanimous vote, picked a top district administrator as the new superintendent.

Roger C. Cuevas, currently the deputy superintendent for district operations, is scheduled to assume the No. 1 post after the board formally approves his contract next week.

The harmony with which the board chose the 27-year veteran of the Dade school system was in marked contrast to the divisiveness that has often accompanied the selection of the district's schools chiefs. In fact, Mr. Cuevas' elevation represents the first time that a Dade County superintendent has won unanimous support on an initial vote, officials said.

"I think it was a surprise that we moved so quickly," said Manty Sabates Morse, a new board member who nominated Mr. Cuevas for the post.

The 53-year-old deputy schools chief won the promotion last month without the board conducting an official search.

"From day one, we had the people qualified within the system," Ms. Morse said. "The last five superintendents have all come from within," she noted, adding that "we didn't think that we needed someone outside; we had him here."

Once the nine-member board was ready to make its decision on a superintendent, Ms. Morse said, Mr. Cuevas' name immediately came up. Also under consideration for the post were two other deputy superintendents--Marilyn Neff and Craig Sturgeon--both longtime educators within the system.

Filling the superintendent's seat was the first priority of the newly formed school board. Using a new electoral system that resulted from a federal lawsuit to increase minority representation on the board, Dade County voters this fall elected members from individual wards rather than from the county as a whole. The result was a more diverse school board than Dade County has seen in years. The board includes four newcomers. ("New Nine-Member Dade Board Reflects Diversity," Nov. 13, 1996.)

A Bridge Builder

Mr. Cuevas will replace Octavio J. Visiedo, who resigned last June citing burnout from what he called a "24-hour a day job." Since then, Alan T. Olkes has served as interim superintendent.

Mr. Cuevas will oversee the fourth-largest district in the nation, with 340,000 students from Miami and surrounding areas.

A former associate superintendent of community services and career preparation, Mr. Cuevas, who was born in Cuba, is described as a "bridge builder" because of his long-term activities in the community.

"He's really in touch with the people," Ms. Morse said.

As superintendent, he would like to make schools more community-centered, Mr. Cuevas said in an interview last week.

"The time is right to work together," Mr. Cuevas said.

Mr. Cuevas said he was aware of the problems facing Dade County schools, such as overcrowding and diminishing revenue, but was ready to take them on. "There's a lot of work ahead, but with the help of my board, staff, and the community, we can do it."

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