TAMPA, Fla. — As the seventh-largest district in the nation, Hillsborough County Schools has a diverse population to serve along with deep needs to address, and incoming Superintendent Addison Davis said he is ready to tackle the tough issues.
“This is a monumental task,” he said Tuesday after thanking the board for hiring him for the new job.
Davis was a classroom teacher for two decades and most recently served as Clay County’s superintendent. Since his start with the district in 2016, he experienced success with increased graduation rates.
He hopes to translate that success to Hillsborough, a district that struggles with student achievement.
"We have a lot of work we have to do here in Hillsborough,” school board member Tamara Shamburger said. Forty-eight of the 50 lowest-performing schools are in her zone; some are being run by outside consultants.
"We don’t need any schools, not one being run or being dictated by the state what should happen with it. We don't want external operators, we don't want to be forced to close schools or neither do we want our schools to be turned over to charter schools, so my very specific expectation for Superintendent Davis is to eliminate any school being in the state turnaround plan,” she said.
Speaking of plans, Davis already submitted a 100-day plan to the district, which will target six core areas including:
- School board and superintendent relations
- Student achievement, equitable access and instructional practices
- Climate, culture and health of the organization
- Community engagement and public outreach
- Organizational efficiency and fiscal responsibility
- Mental health, safety and security
Davis also wants a heavy emphasis on early education to improve educational outcomes and close the achievement gap.
"Fifty-two percent of our readers are not proficient in 3rd grade...and when we look at the achievement gap, we have 33 percent of our African American students are underperforming white students in this district, and it all starts at the cradle,” Davis said.
He also said the district can't just focus on what's happening in the classroom but must look outside as well.
"Are there traumatic events that our children are experiencing? Are they getting the essentials in life? Are they being supported by their caregivers? And if they're not, we must fill that void," he said.
Shamburger said she hopes Davis will work quickly on this issue because many students experience emotional trauma that comes from family instability and can negatively impact student performance.
"We deal with gentrification in Tampa, where our highest needs, our lowest-income, our most marginalized families are just kind of being pushed into one area, and there's this great cluster of poverty,” she said.
The other issue the district must address: its bank account.
"We've got to figure out how we become fiscally responsible…If we can eliminate and remove funding from the district level, then we can provide immediate resources to schools in need," he said.
Shamburger said when voters approved the half-cent sales tax referendum, it boosted the district’s finances so it can make much-needed improvements on its facilities.
For example, some of the money has gone to fixing some of the district’s failing air conditioning systems, which were causing students to suffer in hot classrooms. She said the money helps, but the district must continue making sound financial decisions to maintain financial health.
The school board still has to approve Davis' contract. That should happen in mid-February.
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