Andrew Davis retires from public education in New Jersey after 26 years, as the district he leaves seeks an outside search firm to help find his replacement.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 10, 2023
At the end of the 2023-2024 school year, Audubon Superintendent of Schools Andrew Davis will leave the district he’s led since 2018.
The decision to retire from public education in New Jersey after 26 years opens the door for the next phase of his career, which the outgoing superintendent said will be in a different field, or in a different state.
“It’s nothing to do with the district; it’s to do with some of my own goals,” Davis said.
“I’m committed to public education,” he said. “I think there’s wonderful things that continue to happen, and I’d like to be part of it.”
Having begun his career as a teacher in his hometown of Cherry Hill, Davis came to Audubon from Harrison Township, where he was curriculum director and chief academic officer.
At the time of his hiring, Audubon Schools were staring down a $1.5-million financial deficit that required difficult budget restructuring to stabilize. Together with Business Administrator Deborah Roncace and Audubon Education Association President Michael Stubbs, the new superintendent worked to navigate the necessary changes, which included layoffs.
“I sat in on every one of the release meetings,” Davis recalled. “Educators are special people, and I felt for every one of them.
“I had to let the administrative team know that I wasn’t just going to recommend cuts with paraprofessionals, teachers, and administrative assistants, but within the administrative team as well,” he said.
“That was challenging, and that process was not as smooth as with the teachers union,” Davis said. “It carried over, really, two years. And then we walked into a pandemic.”
During the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Audubon — like every other school district in the country — had no choice but to ride the chaos of closings, remote learning, and working to meet education standards amid a constantly shifting landscape.
Davis himself was hospitalized with COVID-19 during the pandemic, adding additional challenges for the district and his family.
“I’m proud of the commitment from my leadership, but the support from the board in keeping our faculty and staff employed throughout the course of the pandemic, that had a big impact too,” Davis said.
“We provided support for faculty and staff, and consideration whether they were delivering in-person or at-home instruction,” he said. “We didn’t dock staff for some of those times whether they were positive or had to stay home because someone else in their family was positive. I think that goes a long way.”
When it came time for students and staff to return to in-person instruction, Davis said the district worked to prioritize getting help for students with special needs in place first.
“The child study team, under the guidance of Noelle Bisinger, brought back in-school supports for some of our identified students,” the superintendent said.
“Our delivery model made sure students that had IEPs were in the building four days a week, and general ed students were two days in, two days out,” he said. “We worked on keeping supports for those students as consistent as we could.”
Once the pandemic subsided, almost without missing a beat, the district focus shifted to the work of passing a $27-million bond referendum, the first infrastructure work proposed by the district in 20 years. Because preliminary efforts to frame the question were begun in 2018, Audubon had a leg up on the state debt service approval process, and the board had already begun chipping away at project costs.
“There’s a lot of things we wanted to do, and we were limited in regards to the money available through the tax base,” Davis said, “but the community stood tall and strong, and we passed it with a fairly significant margin.
“It really speaks to the community’s commitment and understanding,” he said.
Within months of getting the referendum passed, however, Davis also faced a vote of no confidence from the Audubon Education Association, which he viewed as a remnant of hard feelings from the workforce reductions at the beginning of his tenure.
He described feeling “blindsided” by the experience, but said that overall, it helped improve communication at all layers of the district leadership, which left things in better shape after the fact.
“Part of the union contract speaks to the superintendent’s liaison committee that meets monthly,” Davis said. “We were not meeting as regularly. We put some things on the consistent agenda to talk, and that process has been really strong. We’re in a good place.”
As he prepares to navigate the 2023-2024 school year, Davis said he feels like Audubon Schools are well positioned for a transition to new leadership. He’s working with the Board of Education on a strategic plan to help facilitate a smooth handoff to his successor, whomever that will be.
“Financially, we’re in a much better place,” he said.
“I think the administrative structure’s strong.
“We have academic coaches to help support staff, a mental health counselor; a curriculum budget for resources, materials, and staff training; the technology cycle is good.
“The next superintendent needs to focus on academics, and that rigor, and make sure that our students are performing the way they need to on in-house and state assessments,” Davis said.
“When you’re strong and doing things, you can still get better.”
Audubon Board of Education President Ammie Davis (no relation) said that the district has “had some really excellent experiences with Dr. Davis, from his fiscal responsibility, to navigating the pandemic, to passing the bond referendum.
“He did a tremendous job getting us through that, and now we’ve had some time to digest the information,” she said.
The best possible outcome, Ammie Davis said, would be to have a new superintendent seated by July 1, 2024, to effect as seamless a transition as possible.
“We’re still formulating a plan to proceed forward,” she said. “We have a full year to wrap our heads around it, and make sure we make the best possible choice.”
The Audubon Board of Education likely will hire an outside candidate search firm to lead the hunt for a new superintendent, the board president said; however, the firm itself and the associated costs with the process have yet to be determined.
“It’s quite an undertaking to try to take care of that on our own,” Ammie Davis said. “We feel that it will better serve the district if we use outside services.
“The Board is also grateful that Dr. Davis has allowed us to have this much time to go through the steps of finding somebody,” she continued.
As the district begins the work of finding its next leader, the board also will be working with staff, faculty, and community stakeholders “to define those characteristics we’re looking to find” in a superintendent, she said.
“We want somebody who can pick up the gauntlet on the bond and continue to keep that moving forward,” Ammie Davis said.
“Communication is an excellent characteristic… with that communication comes transparency,” she said.
“I want to make sure that everyone’s on the same page.”
For his part, the outgoing superintendent said he’s “glad for all those experiences, thankful for those opportunities, and glad that I can leave the district in a better place than it was, so the next leader can provide the school environment that our kids deserve.
“I value the relationships I was able to foster and form here,” Andrew Davis said. “I really feel as though we have learned and grown together as a community, and collaborated on numerous challenges. Through that work, the district is in a better place.”
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