TAVARES — Lake County Schools superintendent finalist Diane Kornegay said Tuesday, if appointed, she would evaluate the number of tests administered and make tough organizational changes.

“There is way too much testing going on,” she said. “I have looked at your assessment calendar and I have a few questions on it. Teachers know where their kids are. Asking them to do additional local assessments on top of state assessments is not a good practice in my mind.”

Kornegay said she would like to have an organizational chart of the district.

“My priority is going to be not only that we have the right people in the right places to support schools, but I will make the hard decisions to bring you proposals as to organizational changes that will best serve our schools,” she said.

In the past, Kornegay said she had to make tough decisions in eliminating positions.

“They were eliminated for the right reasons,” she said. “I have taken some heat for that. I am a strong leader and will be a visionary that will look at every aspect of the district in the best interest of the kids.”

School Board members unanimously chose Kornegay Dec. 14 as the sole finalist for superintendent. Current Superintendent Susan Moxley steps down in June, 2017.

The School Board members said they had a clear front-runner for the district's top job after all-day interviews last week with six candidates from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Maryland.

A School Board matrix ranking of the candidates had Kornegay performing overwhelmingly higher than the other candidates: She received 25 points compared to 15 points for Brennan Asplen, deputy superintendent at St. John's County School District, and 14 points for Mark Mullins, deputy superintendent at Brevard County Schools in Melbourne Beach. The Superintendent Search Advisory Committee also submitted a matrix with similar outcomes.

The board, however, recently approved Asplen and Mullins as potential finalists to call back for a second round of interviews.

Kornegay answered questions from School Board members Tuesday morning. The board smiled, nodded and several spoke favorably of her.

Kornegay has served as deputy superintendent at Clay County School District in Melrose since June, 2015. According to Kornegay's resume, she has 30 years of experience in school and district administration in two Florida school districts, where she "improved student achievement and increased graduation rates within all student subgroups."

School Board member Stephanie Luke recently visited Clay County Schools and said every person she interviewed said they could call on Kornegay at any time.

“She was available and she was responsive,” she said. “She has embraced the community. That is something that she would bring to Lake County. The other thing was her honesty and her integrity.”

Further, School Board Chairman Marc Dodd said the stakeholders in the community, including principal groups, the Lake County Education Association and Chamber of Commerce, were extremely positive about Kornegay.

“The common theme that has been across the board is she has a very student-centered approach to her decision making,” he said. “She seems to be strong in her communication and being able to work collaboratively with others to accomplish those goals.”

According to Kornegay’s resume, she “closed the achievement gap of struggling learners through innovative instructional practices that focused on each child’s individual needs.”

Charlie Van Zant, Jr., Clay County superintendent, wrote in Kornegay’s recommendation letter that she “has been recognized locally and nationally for her work to improve teaching and learning through the implementation of innovative and effective strategies and programs.”

And State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Palm Coast, wrote that he had worked with Kornegay this past legislative session “to secure the school district’s request for a $1 million education appropriation to support the academies of Clay.”

Luke asked Kornegay how she handles decisions made by the Florida Legislature that impact education.

“We react slowly,” she said. “There are so many mandates that come down from the state and federal level. Sometimes you have to ask why are they doing this and how does it benefit kids. One example is the Value Added Model (VAM) score tied to teacher evaluations. It does not make sense.”

The Value Added Model is the state's prediction for how a student should perform from one year to the next. If the student exceeds this prediction, then the teacher receives credit for the student's performance. If they miss the state target, it works against them.

“I don’t react quickly,” Kornegay said. “I want to weigh the pros and cons of a state mandate. When it does not make sense, I push back.”

Dodd asked Kornegay how she would prioritize projects in the midst of a tight school budget. He questioned if she was in favor of taking on debt for projects.

“Your funding is an issue and again you have to be creative,” she said. “I wouldn’t be in favor of increasing debt. There is a way we can get creative in doing things differently. I want to look at other revenue streams. I will be an advocate for additional funding to the district. There are other revenues we can tap into.”

School Board member Sandy Gamble questioned Kornegay about whether principals should have autonomy over their schools.

“I believe in autonomy,” Kornegay responded. “The principal in my mind is the most critical position in improving student achievement. I am hard pressed to find an administrator that I can’t trust to take care of their building, community and kids. We are not just the keepers of information ... This is a community, and collectively we work together.”

School Board member Bill Mathias asked with a smile about Kornegay’s temperament.

“I am very calm,” she said. “I don’t get riled up. I never get loud. When someone crosses me I am going to address it. If someone wants to call me out on something, we are going to sit down and have a conversation.”

Kornegay told board members she was humbled they chose her as the sole finalist.

“I will not disappoint,” she said. “I will come ready and work together with you. Everything I said in my action plan you can hold me accountable for. I will make you proud.”

The School Board is scheduled to make a final decision on the superintendent position Thursday morning.