Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis earned the top score from Hillsborough County School Board members after he and six other finalists were interviewed Thursday for the top education post in Tampa.
At the end of the day, Davis, along Peter Licata of Palm Beach County and Don Haddad of Colorado were named the top three finalists who will advance to the next round of the selection process to run the seventh-largest school district in the country -- roughly five times the size of Clay County.
“The question is, ‘Why Hillsborough?’ I’m in a great place in Clay County. It’s a place that is thriving. We’ve made historical gains," I’m here to tell you I’ve only applied for one job and one job only, and that is Hillsborough County," Davis told the panel interviewing him.
Davis told the Hillsborough board about his successes in Clay, including improving school grades and stopping infighting that had plagued the Clay School Board in previous years.
"I have a beautiful relationship with the board,” Davis said. “When I went in, the School Board had poor relationships with each other. When I went into Clay County is was all about removing the politics.”
Hillsborough board members grilled Davis over criticism from the local NAACP over whether he can run a diverse school district based on his at-times strained relationship with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. There were tensions when he spearheaded last year’s effort for Clay County schools to start its own school district.
Davis acknowledged that was an unpopular move, but says he did what his School Board wanted that and he feels the new school police department has been a success.
The selection process began late last year with 51 candidates. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Davis was the only sitting Florida superintendent that applied for the job. The Hillsborough County School Board was expected to narrow its selection process to field to the top two or three candidates after Thursday’s interviews.
After Thursday’s interviews, the board scored each of the seven finalists. Davis got 35 points -- the top score -- and was ranked the top candidate for the job.
The board hopes to announce it’s choice for a new superintendent on Jan. 21. Hillsborough’s outgoing superintendent, Jeff Eakins, is leaving the district on June 30.
Davis told News4Jax on Wednesday the if he is not picked for the Hillsborough job he is committed to staying in Clay County, where he’s already filed to run for a second, four-year term later this year.
News4Jax reported last month that Charlie Van Zant, a former Clay County superintendent of schools, also filed to run again in 2020 for his old job. Melanie Walls, of Keystone Heights, has also filed to run for the office. All three are Republicans. The race will appear on the August primary ballot.