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Hillsborough School Board tries to clarify goals for superintendent

The board is turning its focus to Addison Davis’ September evaluation.
Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively during a retreat Tuesday to develop a corrective performance plan for superintendent Addison Davis.
Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively during a retreat Tuesday to develop a corrective performance plan for superintendent Addison Davis. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published May 4
Updated May 4

TAMPA — What started two weeks ago as a conversation about the possible firing of superintendent Addison Davis has become a more thoughtful, if often confusing, process of making sure he gets a proper evaluation in September.

School Board members spent two hours Tuesday discussing areas of importance in Davis’ job performance, from the climate he creates in more than 200 schools to his profile in a large and diverse community.

But the board’s initial plan to create a corrective action plan for Davis, who arrived 14 months ago from Clay County, is becoming a process of fine-tuning the instrument they will use to evaluate him.

Tuesday’s retreat, as the board called it, showcased continuing rifts on the seven-member board. Before and during the session, member Jessica Vaughn — who touched off the public discussion about Davis with a sharp Facebook post on April 17 — objected to the way Board Chair Lynn Gray had organized Tuesday’s meeting.

Gray’s idea was to have the members break into pairs and each work on a different “domain,” or category of Davis’ performance.

Related: Hillsborough School Board member: Can we fire superintendent Addison Davis?

Vaughn said time was too short for such a step and she would prefer that “we all have a conversation together.”

Gray responded that there has been no shortage of feedback from members. She urged them to try her idea with open minds. She also acknowledged how awkward the whole exercise was, with Davis in the room. “This is not exactly the happiest retreat we could possibly have,” she said.

Gray has been trying to project the image of a harmonious board that supports its superintendent, while at the same time addressing concerns many in the community have raised about Davis.

Parents and teachers reacted angrily when Davis and his team cut more than 1,000 jobs to balance the budget.

Later, a survey of administrators produced hundreds of written comments that described Davis as a top-down leader who does not collaborate enough, trusts the team he brought with him from Clay County more than longtime Hillsborough administrators, and seems intent on fixing a system that is broken.

Related: Hillsborough school leaders blast superintendent Addison Davis in survey

Davis reminded the group that he was hired to bring about change. In addition to its financial difficulties, Hillsborough has more persistently low performing schools than any other district in the state.

But, criticized for imposing too much change during a traumatic year, Davis said, “I own accelerating it too fast during a pandemic.”

The board members will now communicate their suggested changes in the evaluation document to Marie Whelan, the district’s Chief of Human Capital.

Any changes must be approved by Davis and the board. However, regardless of how Davis fares in the evaluation, the board has the ability to end his contract with a majority vote.