Davis’ successor needs to continue improvements, create own leadership style

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Whomever fills Addison Davis’s seat as the Superintendent of Schools for Clay County will have a difficult job.

Clay County clearly lost a leader who made an impact, however brief, on our schoolchildren. The Hillsborough County School Board Tuesday picked up on that quickly and eagerly selected Davis from a group of 51 original candidates to lead its 220,000 students, the seventh-largest in the country.

Whether it be an interim for the next 10 months or the winner of the general election, that person will be tasked with continuing, if not improving, what Davis accomplished in a little more than three years. While there certainly have been some challenges and controversy along the way for Davis, it’s impossible to ignore simple facts of what he got done.

When he was sworn into office on November 2016, the Clay school district was ranked 17th of 74 in the state. The district also had a ‘B’ grade from the Florida Department of Education. It improved to 13th a year later, and to ninth a year ago and is currently ranked eighth.

Clay County also has enjoyed an ‘A’ grade during the last two years, as well as posting record graduation rates in each of those years.

No wonder Davis was so popular among the seven-person Hillsborough County School Board. Currently ranked 48th in the state with a ‘B’ grade, Hillsborough needed help. They needed Davis.

As he’s done so many times in Clay County, Davis wasn’t afraid to tell board members what they should know, not what they wanted to hear. He wasn’t afraid to point out their shortcomings.

“You’ve seen my fight and you’ve seen my tenacity,” he said during his final interview session Tuesday. “Hillsborough County wants and needs an accelerator. I’m the leader ready to do this. When you talk about the next step, Addison Davis isn’t a hypothetical.

“I love Clay County.” He also said with more than 220,000 students compared to 39,000 in Clay, the Hillsborough job is “a game changer.”

Following two final rounds of interviews on Tuesday, board members placed a numeric value for each of the three final candidates, with the top pick getting two points and second getting one. Davis wound up earning six of seven first-place votes and one second-place. Colorado’s Don Haddad got one first-place and four second-place votes, while Palm Beach County’s Peter Licata garnered just two second-place votes.

With that information, the entire board unanimously voted to offer the 43-year-old educator the job.

Now that Hillsborough has a new path toward its future, Clay County must find its own solution to continue its push for improving grades, opportunities and higher graduation rates.

The successor will have to bring their own energy, enthusiasm and plans to build on Davis’s success. They will have to put their own fingerprint on the district and its students, and they must do it at a time when the county is going through tremendous growth that will result in the need for several new schools. And with that comes the daunting responsibility for keeping pace, both financially and in the classroom.

When voters head to the polls in November, among other big-ticket items, they face two decisions that will have a lasting impact on our children. They must elect a new Superintendent and decide whether a half-cent sales tax is necessary to generate more than $300 million that’s needed to fix up existing schools.

The school district needs to keep pushing in a positive direction. Davis’s job shouldn’t be the standard for future Superintendents. It should be something to build on.

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