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Former Escambia High School football coach and teacher Willie Spears will run for Escambia superintendent of schools, challenging incumbent Malcolm Thomas, who is seeking a third term.

Spears, who is running with no party affiliation, filed his candidate paperwork Monday morning before walking across the street to Plaza Ferdinand VII to visit with family and supporters.

“I believe that we can do a better job in the district,” said Spears. “I would love the opportunity to see if we can do everything in our power to make this district the best district. We’re one of the worst districts in the state of Florida, and I think we almost celebrate that mediocrity instead of pursuing excellence.”

Spears, 38, says that while Thomas hasn’t done a bad job, it’s time for a change. “Our superintendent has been in office for two terms, and to go three terms unopposed is kind of silly,” Spears said. “I think he’s trying, I just think there’s some areas where he doesn’t know how to help us, and I believe that I do.”

For the past year, Spears has served as the head football coach and athletic director for Vernon High School in Vernon, Fla., located north of Panama City. Spears had just begun his third season as Escambia High School’s head football coach when he was fired by the school district in September 2014. Amid allegations of recruiting violations, Thomas told Escambia High School’s principal that six football players were not allowed to play. Spears played them anyway, leading to his suspension and Thomas’ recommendation that he be terminated, which was narrowly approved by the school board in a 3-2 vote.

In between his coaching stints, Spears also worked as the co-host of the short-lived BLAB-TV morning show The Daily Brew and is also an author and professional speaker. Spears is a 1996 graduate of Rutherford High School in Panama City and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in education from Troy University.

Spears says that he wants to focus on economically-disadvantaged students, a group he feels is underserved. “I believe I’m uniquely qualified in the area where we’re most deficient, and that’s in serving our impoverished students,” said Spears. “62% of the district is labelled impoverished, and I think the way that we change that is we educate our teachers on how to deal with those students.”

Thomas was first elected in 2008 and was easily reelected in 2012, going unchallenged in the Republican primary and winning 63% of the vote in the general election.

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