Another big leadership change is underway in Duval County Public Schools.
Mason Davis will be taking the reigns as the district’s new assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Davis has spent the last two years serving as executive director of the district’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Department, which recently came under scrutiny following an investigation by the Florida Department of Education.
Davis’ promotion follows the resignation of Daniela Simic from the position. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti moved Simic into the position in May 2013 after eliminating her initial position as chief of strategic planning and partnerships.
Vitti announced the latest change to school board members in an email Monday evening.
“Ms. Simic has done a commendable job building the curriculum and instruction infrastructure to prepare for the new standards and I believe Mr. Davis will continue that work by strengthening the connection at the school level,” the email states.
Wednesday afternoon, Vitti told WJCT Simic never gave a reason for her resignation.
"I think Ms. Simic did a good job of developing the systems that were necessary to be prepared for the new (Florida) Standards...A lot of good work happened," he said.
Simic could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
Davis' move into the position was a direct appointment, Vitti said .
"I thought that it was going to be very difficult for an outsider to come in to that role and hit the ground running," Vitti said.
In his new capacity, he will report directly to the superintendent. Previously, his position fell under the supervision of Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Assessment Andrew Post. With the change, the ESE Department will also shift from the Accountability Department to under Davis' purview in the Curriculum Department.
The move will bump Davis' salary from about $116,000 a year to $128,000 a year, according to Vitti.
The news comes weeks after an investigation into the district’s ESE department by the Florida Department of Education determined that it violated federal and state laws pertaining to special instruction for students with disabilities in math and reading.
Vitti has said he brought Davis in as head of the special education department to help revamp the program which has had a history of issues.
When asked about his decision to promote Davis on the heels of the state department's investigation, Vitti said the findings weren't reflective of Davis' role in the district.
"You certainly want a system of monitoring and tracking of a lot of the instances that were highlighted in the findings," he said. "But at the end of the day, most of the findings were linked to what was properly or improperly done by principals; and those principals, A: Did not report directly to Mason Davis; and in many ways, it is humanly impossible to be in each of those schools looking at each of those situations."
In his email to school board members Monday, Vitti cited Davis’ work in the district and with the state department of education as Regional Executive Director for School Improvement as reasons for his latest appointment. Prior to working at the state-level, Davis spent about two decades working in schools in the district. His brother Addison Davis currently serves as the district's Chief of Schools.
Among data included in the email, Vitti states that about 87 percent of schools directly supported by Davis increased learning gains in reading in 2011 and 87 percent increased reading gains in 2012. In 2011, 87 percent of schools increased learning gains in math and 55 percent of schools increased learning gains in math in 2012.
Wednesday, Vitti said the long-time district employee was in a good position to further the district's school reform efforts.
"As we go into next year, we really have to focus on the internal relationships and I think Mason having been a teacher, an administrator in Duval County Public Schools and then leaving as a state administrator is in a better position to strengthen those relationships and the trust that's need to implement the reform that is required," he said.
Multiple calls made to Davis were not returned.
The district plans to begin advertising the ESE Executive Director position soon. For now, Vitti said those within the ESE department will continue to report to Davis.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.