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The field of candidates to become the Beaufort County School District's superintendent is down to two.
Board of Education members voted unanimously Wednesday to focus on Jeffrey Moss of Sanford, N.C., and Gloria J. Davis of Decatur, Ill. The decision means Kathryn LeRoy, director of high school programs for the 125,000-student Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., is out of the running.
The vote came after a closed session at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence that lasted nearly four hours. The three finalists have each appeared at public forums within the last week.
Early next week, board Chairman Bill Evans and members Mike Sanz, Evva Anderson and Michael Rivers will visit the 9,850-student Lee County Schools led by Moss, and the 9,100-student Decatur Public Schools, which Davis leads. The group is tentatively scheduled to visit Moss on Monday and Davis on Tuesday.
Board members also directed search firm Ray and Associates to conduct additional background checks of both finalists and have asked attorneys to begin contract negotiations.
Evans said Wednesday that LeRoy was a strong candidate, but members were more impressed with Moss' and Davis' "extensive background" and leadership in improving graduation rates, test scores and curriculum in districts where most students come from low-income families and many have diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
"They went into difficult districts and made improvements," he said. "There's a universal feeling among the board both of these people have the ability to take us to the next level."
Evans said there was no clear front-runner.
"The hope ... is that by making these site visits, we may find the thing that makes the difference for us," he said.
Other board members declined to comment and referred questions to Evans.
Moss and Davis have been touted for helping their districts close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, improve graduation rates, and bolster curriculum. However, both come from districts where four-year graduation rates and standardized-test scores lag state averages and where schools struggle to make federal improvement targets.
County school board members and supporters of the finalists argue that the candidates have helped put their districts on the right track toward meeting those targets.
Moss' supporters say he has expanded classroom technology and improved graduation rates. However, detractors say he would not provide alternative schooling for a student on long-term suspension and might have cursed at two people during a public forum.
Davis' supporters say she's increased academic rigor, boosted graduation rates and increased district scores on standardized tests. The district, though, is in the fourth year of a corrective action plan for failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Davis, reached by phone Wednesday, thanked the Beaufort County board for its continued confidence in her and said visiting members will find "people who can shed more light on the positive initiatives happening in Decatur schools."
An attempt Wednesday to reach Moss was unsuccessful.
The board hopes to have a new superintendent hired by the first week in March and on the job by July 1.