Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis took a significant step toward taking the same job for Hillsborough County Thursday, earning the highest grades from five of seven school board members.
Davis became one of the three finalists, joining Peter Licata of Palm Beach County and Don Haddad of Colorado.
Seven board members voted during their meeting after interviewing the final seven candidates. Of 36 possible points, Davis earned 35.
Licata was second with 30 and Haddad was third with 26.
The school board is expected to select its next superintendent on Jan. 21.
The Hillsborough County School District is the eighth-largest school district in the country with about 220,000 students – more than the total number of people in Clay County.
Davis was scrutinized by board member Karen Perez after the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP presented copies of letters they sent to Davis, expressing concern over student discipline. The ACLU also sent similar letters to superintendents from all 67 counties.
Hillsborough board members also were told the overall increase of blacks graduating in Clay County was greater than whites last year. Clay also celebrated its highest graduation rate in district history at 91.9%.
Following interviews with all seven finalists on Thursday, Perez gave Davis the highest grade – six points.
The school board started with 51 candidates and it whittled that list to seven last week, but the one-on-one interview process clearly shook up the field.
Stephanie Elizalde of Texas started the interview process as the highest-rated candidate with James McIntyre of Tennessee in second.
Elizalde dropped to seventh after Thursday’s interviews, while McIntyre was fourth.
Haddad came into the interviews ranked third, followed by Davis in fourth and Licata in sixth.
The Clay County School Board had scheduled an emergency meeting Friday to discuss its options and make a desperate plea for Davis to change his mind, but that meeting was cancelled last Tuesday.
If he doesn’t get the Hillsborough job, he will return to Clay County and run for re-election. Former superintendent Charlie Van Zant and Keystone Heights math teacher Melanie Dawn Walls are the only other candidates who’ve filed their intentions to run.
This story is developing.