Richland 2 School Board members went within their ranks Monday to select their next superintendent.
Assistant superintendent Baron Davis was promoted to superintendent-elect, putting him in position to take over when Debbie Hamm retires as school chief in mid-2017.
The decision assures “a smooth and seamless transition” in leadership, board chairman James Manning said.
Davis, 44, has been an educator for nearly 20 years, 13 of which have been with Richland 2. He also worked at Richland 1 and Orangeburg 4, officials said.
He is set to take charge next July 1 overseeing classrooms with slightly more than 27,500 students. That enrollment is the largest among Columbia area schools.
“He embodies the values and work ethic we believe are essential to the success of Richland 2 now and in the future,” Manning said.
But leaders of the Richland 2 Black Parents Association are reserving judgment on the choice of Davis, the first African-American named school chief in the sprawling district that stretches from Forest Acres to Pontiac.
The selection is a surprise generating “lot of questions out there,” said Stephen Gilchrist, a board member of the group pressing for changes in school operations.
“At this point, we don’t know what the vetting process was,” he said.
The group was not consulted and will take a wait-and-see approach until learning more, said the Rev. Hugh Harmon, its immediate past president.
Asked if the appointment satisfies many of the group’s concerns, Harmon said “I don’t think it does.”
Davis pledged to promote teamwork to continue improving instruction in Richland 2’s 40 schools and academic centers.
“We all share a sense of urgency when it comes to providing all learners with meaningful, challenging and engage learning experiences,” he said in a statement.
“Together, we will continue our focus on learning, community, character and joy as we help students maximize their gifts and talents, enabling each to chart and navigate a personal pathway toward a purposeful and productive future.”
His promotion marks the second consecutive time that Richland 2 picked its superintendent out of its ranks.
“We have had a history of success with superintendents promoted from within,” Manning said. “We have a lot of candidates of the caliber to be considered.”
Board members did not announce if any other candidates were discussed.
But Manning said Davis quickly “rose to the top” once the board decided it want to make its choice internally.
The list of finalists is not required unless a search is open to outside candidates, according to Scott Price, attorney for the South Carolina School Boards Association.
“There’s nothing legally dictating that,” he said, a view shared by Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.
Schools vary in how they hire superintendents, Price said.
It’s not unusual for a board to skip a search “especially if there is somebody in-house who has been cultivated, who is what they know and want,” he said.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said Davis is well-respected by parents and educators.
Lourie, who was educated in, lives in and sent his children to Richland 2, said he was not concerned that the school board did not conduct a publicly announced search.
Promoting from within is beneficial, he said.
Baron returned to Richland 2 in 2012 as principal of Spring Valley High after leaving in 2006. During his absence, he became a principal in Orangeburg County and in Richland 1.
His appointment in Richland 2 ran into complaints from some parents who felt he was out-of-touch with the school. But those critics stopped short of openly opposing his return.
The school board named Davis an assistant superintendent in 2014, a role that put him in regular contact with its members.
Naming Davis as superintendent-elect will settle uncertainty that arose when Hamm decided to step down, Manning said.
It will also help recruit top-flight teachers who might hesitate to come on board until it’s clear who the new leader would be, Manning said.
Davis will get a three-year appointment as superintendent at a salary to be determined. Hamm is paid about $210,000 yearly, officials said.
As assistant superintendent, he undertook a variety of roles that included mentoring improvements for teachers and principals as well as innovation in instruction.
He is a graduate of Francis Marion University and the University of South Carolina. He received a doctoral degree in educational counseling from USC.
Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed to this story. Reach Tim Flach: 803-771-8483