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Superintendent Addison Davis talks Hillsborough's teacher shortage, safety ahead of the school year

A man in a blue suit talks into a microphone. There are children's books behind him.
Hillsborough County School District
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Hillsborough Schools TV
Hillsborough County School District Superintendent Addison Davis spoke at the Dorothy C. York Innovation Academy on Aug. 3 to welcome new students this upcoming school year.

Hillsborough School District leaders are preparing to welcome students back this fall with the school year starting in just a week.

Classes start for some Tampa Bay area school districts next week.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County School District leaders talked about their plans to welcome students back.

Ahead of schools reopening Aug. 10, Superintendent Addison Davis talked about school safety, teacher shortages, and the opening of a new pre-K through 8th grade school: the Dorothy C. York Academy.

The Hillsborough school district jumped into the top 20 of Florida's 73 school districts last school year. And Davis said they’re now aiming even higher.

“What an exciting year we are not going to stop being, you know, ambitious, and related to our instructional priorities until we are in the top 10,” Davis said. "And eventually, you're number one in the state. That's the eye on the prize. And we'll continue to wrap our arms around every school.”

Among the new initiatives to better county public schools, the district will provide free lunches to 80% of students regardless of their socio-economic status.

Davis said there are still 680 instructional vacancies across the county. But the upside is that 100 new teachers are nearly through the hiring process.

He also stressed the importance of Hillsborough voters supporting a tax referendum for the district that's on this month's primary election ballot, saying it would increase salaries to retain and recruit teachers and staff.

“This is an opportunity to be able to address our national crisis to fill our positions and properly compensate every employee in this school district — every teacher, every bus driver, every paraprofessional, every secretary, every support staff member, district leader, school-based leaders — all to be able to show that there's a sense of care, and that there is a salary schedule that shows that we're here to support them in the long term,” Davis said.

School safety remains on the minds of Hillsborough officials, particularly in light of the Uvalde, TX shooting that killed 21 students and teachers in May.

Hillsborough Schools chief of security John Newman said he and his staff carry coins marking the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to remind them what’s at stake.

"I'm always the person that talks about the serious stuff. But it's not the first day of school that we worry about, or the last day,” Davis said. “It's every day that our schools are open."

Newman said that because of monthly drills, new security equipment and cooperation with the City of Tampa, he feels prepared for the coming school year.

In addition, the Helios Foundation announced it's donating $1.3 million to the district to boost student achievement for Hillsborough’s Title One schools, in which 40% of students are low-income.

The Helios Foundation is a financial supporter of WUSF Public Media.

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.