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Jacksonville NAACP raises alarms about Duval County's superintendent search

The NAACP expressed concerns that outgoing Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis was informally the district's top spot without community input.
Octavio Jones
WUSF Public Media
The NAACP expressed concerns that outgoing Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis was informally the district's top spot without community input.

The civil rights group expressed concerns the school district's top spot could be offered to former Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis, without community input.

The president of the Jacksonville NAACP is raising concerns that Duval County's search for a new school superintendent "appears to be a mere facade," with a candidate decided in advance.

NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin sent a letter Wednesday to School Board Chair Kelly Coker saying the search is "squandering valuable resources and valuable taxpayers' dollars. It seems the School Board has already predetermined its next leader."

Coker rejected the characterization. "Let me emphasize that this search is in its earliest stage," Coker said in an email Wednesday. "No candidates have been identified, and no interviews have taken place."

The NAACP's concerns come after Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis resigned in Tampa this month. Davis is the former superintendent of Clay County Schools and a former chief of staff in Duval Schools.

In his resignation letter, Davis wrote, "I have the opportunity to return to Northeast Florida where my entire family resides." WJCT News asked Davis to specify the opportunity, but he has not responded.

Rumlin's letter to the School Board pointed to Tampa Bay Times reporting that "Davis said he was not applying for the [Duval] job. But he did not discount the idea that someone might offer it to him."

In Rumlin's view: "Their statement hints at the possibility of being offered the (Duval County Public Schools) job despite not having formally applied, raising significant red flags and questions. Even if they were to apply, the impression remains that they were assured of the position."

Coker said the School Board has made only one decision so far: to hire the Florida School Boards Association to conduct a national search at a cost of $35,000. Association Director Andrea Messina stressed to the School Board that it's critical to involve the public in the process.

"The search has to be above reproach with your community. It's the most public-facing activity a board will go through," Messina told the board June 14. Addison Davis submitted his letter of resignation to Hillsborough County Schools the next day.

The Duval board is searching for a replacement for Superintendent Diana Greene, who retired after five years with the district. Her last day of work was June 2, with her retirement effective July 24.

Coker said the school district has a history of engaging the public in critical decisions, and "that is fully our intent with this national search."

The School Board will have a workshop with its search consultant at 9 a.m. July 12 to discuss how to involve the community in the process, Coker said.

Duval Schools also has launched an informational superintendent search webpage.

Rumlin said he spoke with Coker on Wednesday. "She assured us that it will be a transparent process," Rumlin told WJCT News, "But we will continue to hold them accountable to make sure that the process is followed."

Copyright 2023 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Claire Heddles - Jacksonville Today