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Addison Davis announces Dream Team for Hillsborough schools

Pulling from inside and outside the district, the new superintendent chooses his cabinet.

TAMPA — As expected, superintendent Addison Davis will surround himself with familiar faces as he reshapes the Hillsborough County School District, the seventh-largest in the nation.

Educators who distinguished themselves in Duval County, Clay County and, in some cases, both counties followed Davis to Hillsborough this year as part of his transition team.

Now they are walking into top jobs in Hillsborough. Davis announced his cabinet in a letter Thursday to district employees.

Here is what we know about this team, with some of the biographical information provided by Davis:

Monica Verra-Tirado, chief of equity and diversity

Monica Verra-Tirado is the new Chief of Equity and Diverisity for the Hillsborough County School District. [Florida Department of Education] [ Handout ]

Verra-Tirado, with a strong background in exceptional student education and mental health, has worked in schools as well as at the district and state levels. As Chief of the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services for the Florida Department of Education since 2012, she is responsible for the state’s implementation of the individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Verra-Tirado has been an adjunct professor in educational leadership for Saint Leo University since 2010. She has served on the Special Olympics Florida Board since 2012. She has served on the National Association of State Directors of Special Education since 2016 and is currently president-elect.

Michael Kemp, deputy superintendent of schools

Michael Kemp is the new deputy superintendent of schools for Hillsborough County. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Kemp comes to Hillsborough with a regional reputation for transforming under-performing schools and districts, and is considered an authority in district cultures, technology integration, school-based performance incentives and online credit recovery programs.

Kemp began his career in the classroom as an exceptional education teacher in Duval County and was a middle and high school principal for more than 14 years. He served as assistant superintendent for student achievement for Glynn County Schools in Brunswick, Ga., and assistant superintendent of technology services in Bibb County, Ga. In Clay County, he was assistant superintendent for operations.

Michael McAuley, chief of staff

McAuley has 27 years in teaching and learning from pre-K to higher education. His resume includes work on the state, national and international levels, and consulting. A practicing school psychologist, he was part of the United Nations’ Global Autism Public Health initiative in 2012. He was an executive director in Duval County schools and an assistant superintendent in Clay County. McAuley “was instrumental in developing systems of support for student engagement in both Duval County and Clay County school systems, where he managed multiple departments responsible for community mental health partnerships, PBIS and student engagement practices, drop-out prevention models, school support mechanisms, and analytic dashboards,” Davis wrote.

Shaylia McRae, chief officer of transformation

Shaylia McRae is chief of transformation for the Hillsborough County School District. [Courtesy of Shaylia McRae]

McRae’s extensive record in Hillsborough includes work as a middle school principal and leadership roles in several areas of innovation. She headed up the district’s “success coach” program under superintendent MaryEllen Elia. She was an area superintendent, and held a leadership role in superintendent Jeff Eakins’ “Achievement Schools” initiative. When chief of schools Harrison Peters left the district this year, McRae stepped in as acting chief of schools.

Chris Farkas, chief of operations

Chris Farkas will be chief of operations under new superintendent Addison Davis. [Times (2018)]

Originally from Alabama, Farkas has spent nearly all of his career in Hillsborough, where he advanced from social studies teacher to high school principal, area director, facilities chief and deputy superintendent for operations. His portfolio was extensive, including transportation, maintenance and security. Along with those other responsibilities — which have been pared back some in the Davis’ reorganization — Farkas supervises hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects being financed with Hillsborough’s new half-cent sales tax.

Marie Whelan, chief of human capital

Marie Whelan, during her days as Principal of Gaither High. Now she is Chief of Human Capital for the Hillsborough County School District. [Times (2012)]

A former high school principal who began her career as a special education teacher, Whelan joined the human resources office in the final years of a teaching reform initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She was promoted into the job of human resources chief when her predecessor was fired. She was named to the position on a permanent basis in 2018, having wrestled with the aftermath of the teaching reforms and tense relationships with the district’s teachers during a financial crisis. As a member of Leadership Florida Education Class 3, Whelan has traveled throughout the state and collaborated with business, civic and university leaders to discuss the challenges facing school districts.

Gretchen Saunders, chief financial officer

Gretchen Saunders is the chief business officer for the Hillsborough County School District. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Saunders joined the Hillsborough district in 1996, coming from much smaller Hardee County. Beginning in the payroll department, she rose through the ranks of the district’s financial offices. She has managed the Hillsborough budget through difficult financial times, including 2015, when district reserves plummeted in the midst of a teaching reform experiment. She is past president of the Florida School Finance Officers Association. Today she chairs the Florida School Finance Council, a policy group of the Commissioner of Education.

Terry Connor, deputy superintendent/chief academic officer

Terry Connor has been named deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for Hillsborough County schools. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Connor was chief academic officer for Clay County schools under Davis, who credits him largely with Clay’s rise from 20th to 8th place in state rankings. “Mr. Connor led the effort to expand choice options at every level, which resulted in greater access to acceleration and course work for the under-represented sub-groups,” Davis wrote. Connor also worked with Davis in Duval County, where he was a successful teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Kim Bays, chief of schools, administration and leadership development

Bays has 22 years of education experience in Florida. She worked for Davis in Clay County as chief of elementary education. In Duval, she was executive director of K-12 science, social studies and fine arts, and a regional superintendent.

“Under her regional leadership, 89 percent of her schools increased in overall school grade calculation points,” according to a biography supplied by Davis when he announced that Bays was a member of his transition team. “Ms. Bays has experience in teaching and leadership at both the elementary and middle school levels, and was the Duval County Teacher of the Year in 2002.”

Jennifer Yarde, chief of elementary schools

Born in Tampa and raised in Jacksonville, Yarde has 24 years of experience as an elementary educator, serving in many capacities in Duval County and Trenton Public Schools. While in Duval, Yarde served as a region superintendent, focused on day-to-day operations and recruiting, screening, and coaching administration and staff.

Marcos Murillo, chief of middle schools

Marcos Murillo is chief of middle schools in Hillsborough County. [ Hillsborough County School District ]

Murillo earned his reputation with the improvements he brought to Town ‘N Country’s Webb Middle School, which earned a B in 2010 and 2011. He was promoted to area director, then area superintendent, where he improved grades in his portfolio of schools in the Town ‘n Country area. His accomplishments there include a STEM hub, comprising 12 schools; and a dual language instruction in a growing number of schools.

Tracolya Clinch, chief of high schools

Tracolya Clinch is chief of high schools for Hillsborough County. [ Twitter ]

Clinch began her teaching career in Georgia, where she also coached basketball. She worked her way into a job with the state education department in the differentiated accountability division. In Duval County, she was an assistant principal, director of secondary science and, most recently, principal of Andrew Jackson High School. In that role, Davis wrote, she led the onetime F high school to earn three consecutive B grades and saw Jackson become a STEM magnet with a Microsoft Showcase School designation.

Van Ayres, chief of innovation

Van Ayres is chief of innovation for the Hillsborough County School District [Times (2015)]

Ayres caught the attention of superintendent Jeff Eakins through his successful track record at Jefferson High School, his alma mater. In 2015, he was named deputy superintendent, where he has directed the district’s work for the last five years to comply with its strategic plan. He is considered instrumental in the district’s work to improve graduation rates.

Tracye Brown, chief of climate and culture

Tracye Brown is chief of climate and culture for the Hillsborough County School District. [Twitter]

Brown has been with the Hillsborough district for more than 30 years, beginning as a classroom teacher at Carrollwood Elementary School. For 10 years, she was a turnaround principal at some of Hillsborough’s highest-needs schools. Brown served as the general director of federal programs, overseeing all Title I programs with a budget of over $60 million. The programs enhance academic programs for high-needs students. As assistant superintendent of academic support and federal programs, Brown helped launch the district’s Bold Beginnings preschool initiative.

Tanya Arja, chief officer of communications

Tanya Arja, Chief of Communications for the Hillsborough County Public Schools [ HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS | Handout ]

Arja joined the Hillsborough district in 2013 after a successful career as a television journalist. She served as media spokeswoman under a succession of communications chiefs, and assumed the responsibilities of Grayson Kamm when he moved this year to the State Attorney’s Office. Arja’s work also helped ensure passage of a half-cent sales tax referendum that is now funding hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvements, including new school air conditioners.

Chief Technology Officer: TBD

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