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Ex-finalist among Fla. education chief applicants

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A college administrator, professor and businessman who had been a finalist for the job last year was among about 50 applicants for Florida state education commissioner as the deadline approached Friday.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to interview a new panel of finalists on Dec. 11 and choose a commissioner the next day. A consulting firm is expected to submit a list of finalists to the board next week.

Thomas Jandris, a vice president and dean of graduate and innovative programs at Chicago's Concordia University, was one of five finalists the board interviewed last year, when it hired Gerard Robinson, then Virginia's education secretary.

Robinson resigned in August after only about a year on the job. He cited separation from his family in Virginia after his wife, a law professor, was unable to find a similar job in Tallahassee.

The Department of Education received no more names from the consulting firm on Friday, but spokeswoman Cynthia Sucher said additional applicants who made the 6 p.m. deadline, if any, probably wouldn't be disclosed until Monday.

None of the current applicants has held a comparable state level position although several are or have been school superintendents in other states. Speculation is that Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett might be an 11th-hour applicant.

The Republican embraced many of Florida's education policies such as expanding charter schools and holding teachers accountable for their students learning gains. He lost his re-election bid on Nov. 6 to Democrat Glenda Ritz, a school librarian.

At his interview last year, Jandris called himself "the hybrid candidate" because of his experience as an entrepreneur, educator, consultant and political adviser. He teaches educational leadership and his research focuses on educational finance, decision-making and leadership.

Before coming to Concordia in 2006, Jandris helped establish Chicago-based Progress Education Corp. He's currently CEO of the firm that offers educational staff development, school improvement planning, policy consulting and technology based learning management materials. He previously had been president of EDmin Inc., a company that develops public education technology solutions for performance management.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush asked Jandris in 2000 to help draft legislation and implement a constitutional amendment to restructure Florida's educational system.

Jandris has a bachelor's degree from Eastern Illinois University, a master's from Wayne State University in Detroit and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Minnesota, where he's the namesake for the Thomas P. Jandris Center for Innovation in Higher Education.

He's also a licensed psychologist and has been an inner city teacher and principal.

At his interview, Jandris also said he was interested in improving Florida's data systems for analysis and accountability. He said his worst weakness was a "desire to move fast, to get the work done. Some are left in the dust. I tend to take on too much."

The board already has extended the application deadline once — by two months — and has reserved the right to order an additional delay if it isn't satisfied with its choices.

The other candidates run the gamut from an Army chaplain to a teacher in India. Others are teachers, principals and business people from across the nation.

They include former state Rep. Ana Logan, a Miami Republican who lost her re-election bid this year, and Judge "Rick" Roach, an Orange County school Board member.

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