Here’s who will lead Davis School District in wake of racism report and student death tied to bullying

Director of secondary schools takes over for Reid Newey, who announced in January he was retiring at the end of the school year.

Farmington • After a painful year that included findings of racism and the tragic death by suicide of a 10-year-old student, Davis School District appointed Daniel Linford as its 19th superintendent Wednesday.

Linford oversees eight junior highs and high schools as a secondary school director for the district and previously worked as the principal at Viewmont High School. He is a product of Davis School District, having graduated from Clearfield High School.

“I’m excited to step into the role at this time,” Linford said in a news conference. “I recognize the challenges. … But I’m glad to be part of the solution.”

Linford thanked his family, the school board, and the district’s employees after being presented as the new superintendent. The crowd of about 50 people, many of whom work for the district, stood and applauded after his speech.

‘We’re deep in the process of improving’

The district’s previous superintendent Reid Newey, who was appointed in 2016, announced in January that he would retire at the end of the school year. Newey’s announcement came the day after the district announced new partnerships with community organizations aimed at identifying strategies to reduce discrimination throughout the county.

Davis School District intentionally ignored “serious and widespread” racial harassment in its schools for years, including threats to lynch Black students, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice released in October.

An independent investigation of the district’s handling of critical issues like bullying was also opened after 10-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor died by suicide on Nov. 6. Tichenor’s mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, has said she went to the district several times, but intense abuse of her daughter for being Black and autistic was allowed to continue without intervention.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Davis School District assistant superintendent Jacqueline "Jackie" Thompson hugs newly appointed superintendent Dr. Daniel R. Linford in the district's boardroom, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

“We’re deep in the process of improving,” Linford said. “...The challenges we face with all forms of harassment, particularly with racism, are a community challenge that we all have to face.”

The district will continue to rely on partnerships with community organizations like Hill Air Force Base and interfaith groups, Linford said, to “ensure we have outside eyes to everything we’re doing.”

“I’m convinced that because it started here, we have an obligation, those of us that know this district and understand this district, it’s incumbent on us to fix it…” Linford said. “But it comes with tremendous partnerships… We cannot do this alone.”

Every time someone uses hurtful language in Davis schools, Linford said, it’s reported to district administration and sent to the newly established Office of Equal Opportunity to correct students. Reports of racist harassment land on Linford’s desk nearly every day, he said.

“The worst thing we could do is assume we’ve conquered that and that it’s behind us,” Linford said.

The Department of Justice required that Davis School District create an Office of Equal Opportunity to handle complaints of racial discrimination after its findings.

‘Leadership will be on the line to engage, listen’

The district appointed Kenneth Auld as director of the Office of Equal Opportunity during a school board meeting Tuesday. Auld, who worked in juvenile correction for more than a decade prior to working in education, will leave his role as a human resources administrator in Jordan School District on April 25.

Auld spearheaded cultural awareness training in Jordan School District and received the Citizenship Award from Unified Police Department for his work with students involved in gangs in 2011.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Davis School District Board of Education appointed Dr. Daniel R. Linford as the new superintendent Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

Linford said he believes the district has a “world class response” to the Department of Justice’s findings with the Office of Equal Opportunity and assistant superintendent Jackie Thompson, who was hired in December and tasked with working on diversity and equity in the predominantly white district.

“We want to lead out. We feel compelled to lead out and create systems and protocols that [make] all students feel safe,” Linford said.

That will be the most important measure of Linford’s success, he said: how students feel in Davis schools.

“I’m hoping to see a considerable drop in the kinds of reports we receive on the daily — that we change and shift the culture,” he said. “... We will never stop operating like we have to conquer this. We do not believe that we can improve this if we ever take the mindset that we’ve accomplished something.”

Adrienne Andrews, a Davis County resident who works as Chief Diversity officer at Weber State University, said that anyone put in Linford’s position, regardless of their race, would face heightened pressure because of the Department of Justice’s findings. She is hopeful that Linford can put his words into concrete actions, she said, but she wants him to start by listening.

“Whenever there’s chaos around change or disruption, listening to the voices of people around you is powerful,” Andrews said. “That means listening to all of our community members, including those who don’t have children in schools ... We need to over invest in our engagement and our outreach to communities of color or other marginalized populations.”

She said she’s confident that Thompson will help smooth the transition between superintendents, but noted that Thompson can’t do all the diversity, equity and inclusion work on her own.

“There’s going to have to be trust building with community partners, many of whom don’t have any trust to share right now,” Andrews said. “That means the leadership will be on the line to engage, listen, be responsive and inclusive in their practices.”