Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis has won over his most important audience: his bosses, the seven members of the school board.
Evaluation scores released this week show all seven are more satisfied with Davis than they were a year ago. His total points rose from 174 to 213.
Davis, 46, was elated at the results, given the turbulent 2½ years since he arrived on the job.
The news came despite the narrow defeat of a tax referendum last month, and the prospect of controversy as the district plans to change school attendance boundaries.
“I have never not had to make a tough decision,” Davis said. “But I am glad I get to do it.”
The scores are meant for feedback and do not affect Davis’ job security or his salary of $310,000.
In June, the School Board agreed to a 3½-year extension of his initial contract. The board also agreed that Davis can expect pay raises of at least 4% annually, provided district administrators get raises too.
While some teachers were angered because budget troubles blocked their own yearly raises, Davis’ first raise does not take effect until June 2023.
The decisions he referred to include staff cuts in 2021 after state leaders called for an austerity plan to reverse years of deficit spending. The cuts were largely accomplished through attrition and transfers, not layoffs. But teachers said they left some classes more crowded, and smaller schools found themselves sharing specialty teachers.
To solve the problem of shared teachers and raise salaries to compete with neighboring districts, Davis pushed for passage of a referendum this year that would have raised property taxes by $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. He told business groups and sparse town hall audiences that the tax would give elementary children the full-time music, art and physical education teachers they needed for a well-rounded education.
The referendum failed by a margin so narrow, a recount was needed. It was the only such measure in Florida to be voted down this year. Davis vowed to try again in 2024.
At the same time, Davis oversaw changes that raised school grades in the district’s most troubled elementary and middle schools.
Once notorious for having 39 “persistently low-performing” schools — the most in Florida — Hillsborough has dropped that number by more than half, Davis reported. The number of schools with D and F grades has also dropped dramatically.
Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools
Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
When districtwide grade points are compared, Hillsborough has climbed from 35th place among the state’s 67 districts to 19th.
Davis expanded academic programs in middle and high schools. He opened more Spanish dual-language in the elementary schools. He oversaw a reinvigoration of the district’s career education programs including medicine and the construction trades. The Florida Association for Career and Technical Education this year named Davis its superintendent of the year.
Davis, in 7½ pages of bullet points, used his self-evaluation to detail these and other accomplishments. He listed more than 100, including monthly training sessions for bilingual classroom aides and teaching 17,210 teachers and 945 administrators how to use the new Canvas communication platform.
While the board members praised his work and attentiveness to their concerns, they also offered suggestions for improvement.
Nadia Combs, the board chairperson, urged Davis “to ensure that instruction is centered around teachers and not computer-based programs.” She asked that he streamline the district’s hiring system as schools continue to contend with teacher shortages.
Stacy Hahn cautioned him that he must continue to control spending. Jessica Vaughn wrote that she still sees room for improvement when it comes to “employee motivation, engagement and retention.” Karen Perez agreed that there is room for improvement in employee relations.
Challenges ahead center around the ongoing school boundary study, which the district launched in response to dozens of schools that are well below optimal enrollment levels.
The consulting firm WXY Studio is holding a series of virtual community meetings to explain its study process. If the board follows the firm’s recommendations, the result could be new boundaries for some schools, and new uses for others.
Neither outcome will be popular, and participants in the meetings are so far objecting strenuously to any changes.
More immediately, the district is headed into impasse hearings with the teacher’s union, which wants its members to receive raises advertised in their pay plan instead of the one-time supplements that the district is offering.