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Jacksonville NAACP raises alarms about Duval superintendent search

Addison Davis holding a microphone and addressing a crowd
Octavio Jones
WUSF Public Media
Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis resigned earlier this month, referring to an "opportunity to return to Northeast Florida."

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."

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.