Reform ‘a big job' at Dozier School

Newest superintendent hiring another supervisor
February 07, 2010 03:49:00 PM
ANDREW GANT / News Herald Writer

MARIANNA — The latest boss at the troubled Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys will hire another
superintendent to oversee day-to-day operations at the facility, where he said reform “is a big
job” but is “absolutely going in the right direction.”

Michael Cantrell, who oversees both the Dozier school and the maximum-risk Jackson Juvenile
Offender Correction Center (JJOC) that sits on Dozier’s campus, said the state already has
corrected many of the most glaring problems.

“I walk around every day to every living unit on both sides, and I’ve told staff, ‘If I see you cursing
at a kid or whatever, I’ll ask you to go home on the spot and ask you to seriously consider
whether you want to work here,’” Cantrell said. “We have no room for that here.”

Dozier, which houses “high-risk” boys between the ages of 13 to 21, came under scrutiny in
October 2008, when the state sealed shut a campus building where dozens of men claimed they
were beaten and abused as boys. Some 300 men joined a class-action lawsuit against the state,
alleging decades of systematic abuse they said still could be happening. The school is more
than 100 years old, the oldest in Florida.

Dozier failed its 2009 evaluation, during which the state reported “an alarming number of youth
… felt supervision was lacking” and that guards threatened students.

Cantrell said the current superintendent handling Dozier’s everyday operation is transferring
back to the higher-security JJOC.

The open position has a wide salary range of about $26,000 to $110,000 and is responsible for
“direct care operations and security” at Dozier. The minimum requirements are a master’s
degree with eight years experience working with delinquent juveniles or a bachelor’s degree and
10 years experience. Three of the years must be at management level.

The last complex superintendent, Mary Zahasky, resigned in December, writing that the
Department of Juvenile Justice “has lost faith in me” after her own poor job review stated the
school had “significant safety and security issues and no action was taken by Ms. Zahasky or
her staff.”

Zahasky now is an intake supervisor for the state, according to DOJJ spokesman Frank Penela.
He said she meets with judges in juvenile cases “to decide what’s the best treatment for the

Cantrell, 42, who took the job Jan. 4 and became the seventh superintendent in nine years, is
paid about $91,000 per year, according to the state. Zahasky made about $74,000.

Meanwhile, Cantrell said this week he has “raised the bar quite a bit” at Dozier and that
“obviously I think there’s people in all phases of what we do out here that need to step their
game up.”

He said the school has hired a full-time physician and a full-time dentist. In 2008, some boys’
complaints alleged medical neglect and the school had a shortage of medical personnel.

The school also is toughening its key control system, Cantrell said. Some 80 sets of keys to the
facility have been going off campus overnight. By next Monday, he said, zero permanent-issue
keys will leave campus.

Cantrell said Dozier has not recently surveyed its students to detect possible mistreatment, but
“we have a grievance process here and we’re monitoring them very closely for those kinds of

Officials and residents in Jackson County have lobbied against Dozier’s closure, although the
DOJJ has said it is not planning any cutbacks. The worry is that bad news coming out of the
facility will cause the state to cut ties and eliminate local jobs in the process.

“I don’t know where the disconnect came with the community and the school, but we’re
mending those fences,” Cantrell said. “We want to make sure that we’re doing things right and
that the news coming out of Dozier is good.”