Educator, father, Superintendent: getting to know Addison Davis
Hillsborough County's newest school official approaches his position with determination and expertise
August 18, 2020
As a young adult fresh out of college, Addison Davis was prepared to begin working for his mother’s roofing and construction company.
However, his “roadmap” changed thanks to a teacher his freshman year of college. This teacher held him accountable, helped him become organized, and overall, “helped me truly take ownership in the learning process,” Davis said. Davis realized that education was where he wanted to be. Flash forward to 2020, and Davis is the current Superintendent for Hillsborough County Public Schools, serving over 220,000 students.
“We’ve all been touched by that [special teacher]. One that helps us…not only inside the classroom but outside the classroom as well… coming out of college, I wanted to make a difference,” Davis said. “I wanted the transition to be [a teacher], not only to help students, find pathways that lead to success, but help them, be a life coach, help them navigate through barriers and find true consistent pathways that help them become efficient, effective citizens within society.”
After college, Davis became a teacher and coach, aiming to be educate and mentor students. This position led him to a variety of other ones in the public education system, including Assistant Principal, Principal, Executive Director of Turnaround schools, Region Superintendent and Superintendent. His wide range of positions spans over Clay County, Duval County and now, Hillsborough.
It’s these numerous positions that have given Davis a unique perspective on education, one that sees the many sides of what goes into teaching and improving schools. Keeping this in mind is what he believes allows him to be the best he can for any position.
“Many times when I go introduce myself, I’ll introduce myself as an educator or as a teacher because that’s what I am,” Davis said.
The school district voted to hire Davis on January 21, who formally became Superintendent on July 1. He is currently working to open schools safely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the lack of precendence in this situation, Davis knows that it will be a growing and learning experience for his career.
“I never knew that the day when I got here in March, in my first couple of days on the job, that I’ve had to shut down the school district related to addressing a pandemic,” Davis said. “I will say that it’s been definitely interesting in the last five months, but at the end of the day I’ve had opportunity to learn.”
However, it’s not just his expansive resume that gives Davis experience in the education system. He has two daughters of his own, a sophomore softball player at UCF and a rising high school freshman. Getting to see how the education system impacts his family firsthand has motivated Davis to help schools become the best they can be for students.
“I lead every single day with making certain that we select curriculum materials and create the best environments that my daughter can thrive in, because when I look at classrooms and I’m looking at [the] 220,000 students that we serve, the standard is always…’will I put my daughter in that type of learning environment’,” Davis said.
Davis approaches the districts he works in with a hands-on approach, whether it’s visiting schools or organizing “Dialogues with Davis,” a monthly gathering with teachers and other professionals in the district. In these sessions, Davis spends an hour and a half to two hours talking with his colleagues about “what’s working, what’s not and what we can do differently.” He was motivated to begin these sessions as a way to directly connect the school district office to the teachers consistently.
“I had to connect the school district office to what was actually going on in schools, and have a broader opportunity for a forum for employees in the organization…to talk about how to improve or how to revolve as a system,” Davis said. “It’s most important to employees for us to roll up our sleeves together and put our shoulder to the wheel and get the job done.”
Working directly with teachers and professionals is an important part of Davis’ philosophy as a leader. He believes that active engagement is essential to making decisions in the school system, adding that “I’m smart enough to know that I don’t have all the right decisions…always actively engage practitioners in order to make informed decisions, and that’ll allow us to be successful.”
In addition to his monthly forums, Davis makes an effort to engage with other educators in his daily work. He walked me through his typical day on the job, noting the importance of extending his workplace beyond the office. At the beginning of our interview, he even apologized that we couldn’t meet in person.
“From 7:30 in the morning to around noon, I’m in schools and I live in schools, and that’s a priority for me…[being in schools] allows me to have a better understanding of what district staff is asking teachers to do and determine whether or not what we’re articulating is actually getting to the classroom…” Davis said. “I just didn’t want to get to a point where I’m not connected to what’s the realities of our schools, and being with teachers and being with students allows me to do that.”
For the rest of the day, Davis meets with community leaders, spends time with his family and returns to the office, where he sometimes works as late as one in the morning.
“[From noon to six o’clock is when] we’re meeting and we’re strategizing, we’re building in our community meetings, I’m having conversations with civic leaders, and I’m building the capacity of this community to understand what we’re trying to accomplish in Hillsborough County…” Davis said. “I work late from 10 o’clock to maybe one in the morning, and then get up and do it again.”
Throughout his extensive career, Davis’ goals for the public education system have followed him in his everyday work, and motivate him to go above and beyond in the field. His advice for students and those looking to go into the same field?
“Never be complacent, stay hungry, stay motivated and always, continue to outperform and outwork individuals…that’s the biggest separator.”