Florida Keys

The Keys’ schools chief is leaving next year — and a veteran educator is ready to step in

The Monroe County School Board wants a veteran local educator to temporarily replace Superintendent Mark Porter when his contract runs out next summer.

Theresa Axford, the executive director of teaching and learning, will become interim superintendent for one to two years when Porter leaves at the end of the school year after eight years on the job, the board said this week.

“She is in fact ready, willing and able to assume the role of superintendent,” said board Chairman Bobby Highsmith.

“Mrs. Axford has been here and knows everything,” said longtime board member John Dick. “There will be no learning curve for her. She knows what’s going on here.”

Axford, 72, who has worked for the school district since 1985, has been a teacher, an assistant principal and a principal before being promoted to the administrative staff.

She was principal of Sugarloaf School for 13 years. She has been in her current job since 2012.

“I’m so honored to serve,” Axford said. “I love our county schools and I’m so proud of our stature in student performance as an A district.”

She said she couldn’t “commit” on Thursday to seeking the job permanently.

Axford is a Philadelphia native who moved to the Keys in 1976, first teaching at the former Mary Immaculate High School, where she was promoted to principal before it closed. Then she joined the district as a teacher at Key West High School.

A formal vote is still required by the five-member board. But the members were unanimous about choosing Axford at its Tuesday meeting in Key West.

The board members appeared ready to launch a formal superintendent search in the near future, however.

Porter, 62, a Minnesota native, was hired by the board after a national search in 2012. He earns $165,000 a year.

Selecting a successor to Porter is new territory for the School Board.

Porter was the first appointed superintendent for Monroe County after the district became mired in scandal when former superintendent Randy Acevedo’s wife, Monique Acevedo, was sent to prison for stealing more than $400,000 from the district.

Randy Acevedo was convicted of three counts of felony official misconduct. He received three years of probation and a $15,000 fine for covering up his then-wife’s theft.

Monique Acevedo pleaded guilty and served seven years in state prison. She was released last year.

Board member Mindy Conn said Axford is the best choice for the interim job.

“I’d like to see Mrs. Axford in sort of a co-superintendent role hopefully for the second half of this year,” Conn said.

Highsmith disagreed.

“Mr. Porter is our superintendent until his term expires and then Mrs. Axford will take over,” he said.

Conn said she didn’t mean they would serve as superintendent at the same time, just that Axford be involved in making decisions such as hiring.

“Employment decisions, a lot of them are going to have to be made,” Conn said.

Porter said he and his wife, Jane, are leaving the Keys for the Charlotte, North Carolina area. He says it’s a “semi-retirement,” and he isn’t seeking a new superintendent job there. He would like to work in the education or nonprofit field.

Dick said the board needs to focus on replacing Finance Director Jim Drake, who is also leaving the district in nine months.

“I just hope Mr. Drake can find a fantastic replacement for himself,” Dick said. “I’ve been here when we’ve had a lot of problems with that position, and that’s very problematic.”