Duval’s School Board unanimously voted to hire a former deputy superintendent for this district to lead the district on an interim basis.

Dr. Patricia Willis, a 35-year educator and Jacksonville native, will lead the district after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti leaves Friday to run Detroit schools. Since retiring from the district she has consulted with other districts in Florida and Georgia.

“She has the internal connections and within our partnership realms,” said Board Chairwoman Paula Wright. “She also has some distance from Duval County Public Schools and so can give us that fresh set of eyes.”

The other contender was Earl Lennard, a retired superintendent of Hillsborough County schools. Originally Pearl Roziers, who currently leads Duval’s school choice office, was one of the contenders but withdrew when it was learned she would suffer a substantial financial hit on her retirement payout if she returns after officially retiring in June.

Willis makes history as the first African-American woman leading as Superintendent in Duval County.

"She has an opportunity and understands to keep us moving in the right direction, but also give us that outside look and close even more gaps," said DCPS Board Chair Paula Wright.

Willis says the first items on her agenda is meeting with school principals, the leadership team and the cabinet to tackle priority issues, like the school budget and the controversial education bill that DCPS asked the Governor to veto.

"I’m very concerned for our community when we talk about shutting down schools," said Willis, referencing the education bill. "Schools are the core of the community. Home, church and schools and when we remove one of those we have some concerns.

Willis says she wants to honor what Vitti already has in place but will be looking at current initiatives that need action.

"Unless there are major differences I don’t know if there is a need for major changes but I’m sure there are some things we will need to address," said WIllis.

Willis returns to DCPS Thursday morning as the board will work with lawyers to finalize her contract. Once she signs it she will no longer be called interim but rather the official superintendent of Duval County.

The contract she will sign could be for as long as 3 months to up to a year or more, it all depends on how long the search for a permanent replacement will take the firm search firm they hire.

Once a candidate is chosen DCPS says Willis will most likely have a buffer period of about 30 to 60 days before the permanent superintendent steps in.