Editorials

Editorial: Richland 2 students, community deserved better search for superintendent

Baron Davis was appointed superintendent-elect of Richland School District 2 on Monday.
Baron Davis was appointed superintendent-elect of Richland School District 2 on Monday. gmelendez@thestate.com

AT FIRST GLANCE, BARON Davis seems qualified to become superintendent of Richland School District 2. Unfortunately, the public didn’t get an in-depth look at Dr. Davis — or anyone else — before the school board hired him Monday night.

School board members picked Dr. Davis, the district’s assistant superintendent, just 11 days after Superintendent Debbie Hamm announced she was retiring. They apparently looked only at internal candidates, an indication they were not committed to finding the best person.

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Dr. Hamm had given a one-year notice, which left plenty of time for board members to conduct a thorough search for her successor. It was also plenty of time to involve the public before board members made what is surely their most important decision.

Dr. Davis was chosen after a search process that apparently lasted less than two weeks. He will serve as superintendent-elect until Dr. Hamm retires in June 2017. Three years ago, Dr. Hamm also was named superintendent without an extensive candidate search.

Dr. Davis, 44, might have emerged from a thorough search as the best candidate. An educator for nearly 20 years, he fulfilled a variety of tasks as assistant superintendent. Among those: mentoring teachers and principals and seeking innovations in instruction.

He is a former assistant principal and principal at Richland 2’s Spring Valley High School; a former principal at Edisto High School in Orangeburg County; and a former principal at Alcorn Middle School in Richland 1, where he is credited with helping to move the school off a list of “priority,” or underperforming, schools.

School Board Chairman James Manning explained that, “He embodies the values and work ethic we believe are essential to the success of Richland 2 now and in the future.” He also said that Dr. Davis’ hiring assures “a smooth and seamless transition” in leadership.

We agree that the right values and work ethic are important. We also support a smooth transition in the superintendent’s office. But the transition could have occurred smoothly regardless of the person hired.

An argument can be made for maintaining the status quo in Richland 2. The district faces no scandals; nobody is accused of mismanagement or grossly wasting taxpayers’ money.

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The district’s academic standing is adequate — the average composite SAT score in 2015 was 1,391, a small decline from the previous year and 39th out of the state’s 81 districts. The district’s on-time graduation rate for 2015 was 86 percent, a 14 percent increase in six years.

Nothing about the district demands a change of direction.

Still, with more than 27,500 students, it is the largest in the Columbia area and the fifth largest in South Carolina. Its educators are charged with one of society’s most important functions: preparing children for the future.

Like nearly all public schools districts, Richland 2 serves children from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of abilities. Educators must teach children destined for multiple paths, including the world’s best universities, local technical schools, the military, and directly to the workforce.

While the district faces no significant challenges, school board members owed it to the community to seek the best. Their duty required a wider search for someone who might bring in bold, effective strategies for better meeting the schools’ responsibilities.

The board also should have included the public. Many school districts routinely identify at least three finalists, invite the public to meet the candidates, and then solicit feedback.

Yes, we elect school board members to make those hires. But democracy doesn’t happen one day every four years. The public has a right to get involved all the time, especially when key decisions are made.

Public input can be valuable in helping the school board sort through the candidates.

Again, Dr. Davis may be the best person to lead Richland 2. But given their quick, private search, the school board members now have a lot of work to do to convince the public that he is.

That’s a disservice to him as well as the students, educators and residents in Richland 2.

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