The Hillsborough County School District entered a new era Tuesday with the selection of Addison Davis as its new superintendent. Davis, currently the superintendent in Clay County in northeast Florida, distinguished himself in a crowded candidate field with a solid grasp of Hillsborough’s challenges and a welcome sense of urgency. He will need to move fast and across a broad front to meet the high expectations he set as the rare outsider coming in with a fresh set of eyes.
Davis, 43, impressed School Board members with his attention to detail and energy during public interviews last week. He sealed the deal Tuesday with another impressive performance that won him strong backing from a diverse school board. Davis spoke passionately and at length in the past week of his commitment to ensuring equity in the nation’s seventh-largest school system, and he detailed the steps he would take in the coming months to address Hillsborough’s shortcomings. In choosing Davis to succeed Jeff Eakins, who is retiring in June after 31 years with the district, the board showed the importance it places on having a good communicator who embraces an inclusive decision-making process.
Eakins was a stabilizing force in his five years as superintendent, rebuilding the district’s financial health and its credibility in the community. Board members are looking for Eakins’ successor to build on that foundation by continuing his focus on early childhood education and improving academic performance. Hillsborough has struggled with lagging graduation rates, teacher vacancies and low reading scores, and it stumbled in several attempts to boost the quality of low-performing schools, many of them in heavily minority, urban neighborhoods. With four of the seven board seats up for election this year, the new superintendent will face political pressure to achieve some immediate successes.
While Davis comes from a much smaller school district, he spent years in the Duval school district and worked his way up to senior leadership before becoming the superintendent in neighboring Clay County in 2016. Davis did his homework on Hillsborough, and his reassurances to address reading, minority achievement and other pressing needs were well received by a board that was initially split over several semifinalists. Davis promised to create a “world-class educational experience” in Hillsborough by instilling “high expectations for every learner” regardless of whether they come from high or low-income neighborhoods. He called it “unacceptable” that Hillsborough had 50 under-performing schools and vowed to strengthen academic settings by providing social workers and other professionals to campuses in need. Davis also said he would build strong relationships with the business sector, colleges and universities and other institutions to deepen opportunities for the district and its students.
In his first 90 days, Davis plans to visit campuses, meet with students, employees and education advocates and evaluate a range of programs, from mental health and school counselor offerings to special education services. He plans to review every school to determine its evolving technology needs and give particular attention to reading and early childhood education. Davis also wants to create strong, regular lines of communication with parents, nonprofits and civic leaders “who may not always have a voice" in the district’s decision-making process.
This is the right agenda and the right approach in leading an institution that has a major impact on the entire Tampa Bay area. The board’s faith and confidence in Davis, as reflected in its unanimous vote to hire him, will get Davis off to a strong start in fulfilling his commendable vision.
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