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The last of the three finalists for superintendent made her case Tuesday for being hired for Beaufort County School District's top post.
Gloria J. Davis, superintendent of 9,100-student Decatur, Ill., public schools, touted her record of increasing the rigor of district curriculum, boosting graduation rates and rallying support for a sales tax to renovate two high schools.
"I am someone who has extensive background in education and truly believe in what you're trying to do here in Beaufort County," Davis said during a public forum at the Bluffton Library. "And I believe I can help. I know and understand how to address needs of the community ... and can help close achievement gaps."
Davis has been the superintendent of the Decatur district since 2006. Prior to that, she was an educator for 31 years, climbing the ranks from teacher to elementary and middle school principal to assistant superintendent in the University City School District near St. Louis, according to a resume and biography provided by the Beaufort County district.
Thirteen of the 17 elementary schools in Davis' district received awards from the state of Illinois for superior achievement among low-income and minority students, according to a biography submitted to search firm Ray and Associates.
Her district's reading and math scores on standardized tests increased from 2007 to 2011. The district's high school graduation rate improved from 73.3 percent in 2007 to 92 percent in 2010.
Davis said she achieved those goals by holding students to higher expectations and lobbying the community to support early-childhood literacy and school attendance campaigns.
"I stress to children their environment does not define them," she said. "I know they are capable ... but must meet high expectations, and we as educators and a community must support them."
Davis said she helped create an education coalition in 2008 comprised of about 150 community and business leaders to donate, volunteer and lend their expertise to after-school programs and other initiatives. She also implemented a summer school program to help students catch up -- something the district lacked when she started -- and used federal money to create an early-learning center where teachers helped at-risk children go into kindergarten prepared.
Davis said she also used substitutes to give classroom teachers time with principals to discuss student performance and devise intervention plans.
She said the Beaufort district has much to be proud of and, if hired, she would "emphasize education for all."
Hilton Head Island High School algebra teacher Bob Jurinko, who attended the forum, said he's confident in Davis' ability to lead.
"Everything she said was from the heart and (you) could tell it wasn't rehearsed," Jurinko said.
The school board hopes to have a new superintendent hired by the first week in March, though whoever is selected probably will not start until July 1.
The board meets today at 9 a.m. in executive session at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence in Ridgeland to discuss employment of a new superintendent.
Board chairman Bill Evans and board search committee chairwoman Laura Bush said they did not know whether the board will name a new superintendent at that meeting.
"We haven't talked about the finalists as board members," Bush said. "We didn't think that would be fair, since we just interviewed and heard from (Gloria) Davis tonight. We wanted to give each their equal due."
Bush said the board will review public comments gathered online and from the forums, and map out the next step.
"We could name a finalist, delay or start over," she said. "I don't know what will happen."