Chief Chat with John Davis, Chief of Schools

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By Bianca Viazzoli

“Thank you for spending your summer with DCPS,” John Davis, The Chief of Schools at DCPS said to the UELIP cohort, “your energy and passion are greatly appreciated.” After professing his disdain for talking about himself, John kindly gave his time to share his professional journey with this summer’s UELIPs.

John started out as an engineer. While coaching basketball after work, he decided it was time for a career switch. John decided to join Teach for America where he worked toward his teaching certification. John said he saw himself get “better and better” and found it “eye opening to see great teachers teach.” By his fifth year, he had earned the title of “Teacher of the Year” in his school, a title he is very proud of. By his sixth year, John admits he was “a little burnt out,” so he decided to take an opportunity to teach struggling young men in Kenya.

When he returned to the United States, John taught in Baltimore City Schools, and after two years he decided to join the Baltimore City Principal Internship Program. At that point, Baltimore City was in the process of breaking down their large schools into smaller ones. This allowed John to start as Principal in a brand-new school called New Era Academy.  John confessed it was “wonderful to start a new culture,” but the experience was just as difficult as it was memorable.

It was after his experience in Baltimore City that he was asked to join DCPS. “I never imagined working in Central Office,” John admitted, and he found it “daunting” after fifteen years in the classroom. John has a had a long journey at DCPS in the last ten years, but he now finds himself in the role of Chief of Schools. The Office of the Chief of Schools is made up of the Superintendents, School Turnaround, Student Wellness, Academic Planning and Support, and College and Career.

John played a major role in the implementation of extended year school. “The way we do school now is the same as how we did school then,” John claims, “It needs re-imagining.” The way his team decided to re-imagine the classroom is breaking up the nine-week summer vacation and spreading it across the whole year, allowing more time in the classroom in hopes of reducing summer learning loss. John said frankly, “I don’t care where you live, this is best for all kids.”

With many years of experience, John offered the UELIP cohort some advice and observations he has gathered along the way.  “Principals,” John said, “are leaders among leaders.” Although they are asked to do a lot, they cannot do it all. Delegation is important, so principals are able to better support other leaders to do their job. He urges aspiring principals to be “out and about to have a pulse of the school.” The best principals, in John’s opinion, must be visible to build a strong school culture and community.

As John moves on to Baltimore City schools, he says there isn’t much he is worried about. He is proud to have had a hand in the hiring of almost all DCPS principals, and hopes to gain similar relationships in his new position. Although it is hard, John claims that leading schools is ‘the work’ and he can’t see himself doing anything else.

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