Dr. Elisabeth Davis DCS Superintendent Interview – 7/24/2015

Dr. Elisabeth Davis addresses the DCS Board of Education and community members in attendance at Friday's interview at Rooster Hall. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Dr. Elisabeth Davis addresses the DCS Board of Education and community members in attendance at Friday’s interview at Rooster Hall. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Dr. Elisabeth Davis, director of curriculum and instruction with Pelham City Schools, interviewed for the Demopolis City Schools superintendent post Friday, July 24. The following is an overview of the interview that took place before the DCS Board of Education and a near capacity audience at Rooster Hall.

Please give us a snapshot of your professional experiences and your belief in public education. We have five finalists for this position; convince us that you should be the one. 

A: Prior to her current position, she was assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Tuscaloosa City Schools; Distance Learning Instructor at the University of Alabama; and School Improvement Specialist, Program Specialist and an assistant principal and teacher with Shelby County Schools

“Through those experiences I think I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and a lot of understanding of what it takes to be an effective educator.”

At Pelham she has learned a lot about a small school system and what a small system can do for students.

“There is no one that can outwork me.” She is dedicated and committed to doing the best job possible to make sure all students are ready for college or a career.

“I’m the one to take that to the next level.”

Q: A superintendent has to have tremendous passion, belief and commitment. How do you know when it is time to act and when it is time to listen and learn? How have you balanced collaboration while maintaining your leadership role?

A: “Listening is the key component”

All decisions must be a team effort.

“I don’t know if there is any other way to lead besides to collaborate.”

Q: Please describe what you think the role of superintendent is as it relates to successfully engaging our staff, students, families and community toward a common vision and successful outcome. 

A: “Without all of those stakeholders, you wouldn’t have a school.”

She would form advisory groups and hold listening tours in the community and in schools.

“The school is the heart of the community.”

Q: High performing students and closing the achievement gap are priorities for Demopolis City Schools. What leadership and guidance would you provide to ensure that these expectations are properly evaluated and adjusted for all students?

A: Must always know what is going on and what is being mandated.

“My background brings a wealth of knowledge to this area.”

Must determine where the system needs to grow and make a plan to get there, a plan that is “workable and manageable.”

Q: When a new superintendent is hired, the transition should be as smooth as possible. How would you help both the educational community and the community at-large adjust to the new governing style that you would bring?

A: In a folder she gave each of the board members, she presented a 90-day entry plan that she would follow.

Included are the evaluation of current programs and building relationships, communicating and assessing the current state of the system.

Q: As you know, school districts across the state face financial constraints due to the economy and funding issues. How have you been involved with budget development and ongoing fiscal management in the past? 

A: She referred to her experience in Tuscaloosa in helping set up its career-tech center and in Pelham, which started its own school system one year ago.

“I’ve had a wide range of budgeting issues that I’ve dealt with from local school to larger system.”

Q: We are looking to expand partnerships with Shelton State, UWA and local businesses. We will need a facility for this project and major renovations will be necessary. What are your experiences in dealing with construction and budget issues on large project?

A: She again referred to her experience with Pelham.

Must meet state and federal guidelines.

Referring to the Career-Tech Center to be housed at the former New Era building, she said any construction or renovation must be based on workforce data to make sure the curricula fits the needs of employers.

She would meet weekly with the architect, visit other sites and get input from those who will be using the facility.

Q: Based on what you know about our school system, what do you think is the greatest potential for improvement?

A: “From everything I’ve seen, read and where I’ve been today you have a great school system.”

She said Demopolis schools are well rounded and have great support.

She referred to the community survey results stressing the desire for students to be college- and career-ready.

She suggested possible programs that would expand learning opportunities already in place.

“The sky’s the limit with innovation.”

Q: An increase in enrollment is one of our goals. Give us your best 2-minute speech to encourage parents to enroll their children in our school system. 

A: The logo of the schools system is very strong. “Interest to succeed. Lead to achieve.”

“People come to communities and stay because of the schools.”

Schools support all areas, academics, career-tech, athletics and arts.

“This is the perfect community to raise my children.”

Complemented the community for the Demopolis City Schools Foundation and the millage that supports schools.

Q: All employees appreciate being valued and respected. What is your plan for boosting and keeping morale up while requiring high expectations of everyone?

A: “You have to be a servant leader.”

Must be visible and build relationships.

Would address behavior, not the person.

Team building is powerful and important.

Pats on the back to those who deserve it, but individualize the recognition.

Q: Our district has a code of conduct. Describe your ability to cultivate a disciplined, safe and orderly school environment. 

A: Must follow the law

Hold everyone accountable.

Use problems as teaching moments.

Be fair and consistent.

Q: You have identified an administrator that needs improvement. What process would you use to improve the competence of that person and what corrective actions would you take? 

A: “Our goal is always to grow our leaders.”

Study the data, identify what it impacts, then focus on the area needing help.

Develop a plan with the administrator to address the problem, provide the support and measure the success.

Q: The Demopolis City Schools Foundation, the Demopolis PTO, the media and the community at-large play a vital role in the support of our schools. Describe what your relationship would be in continuing this tradition.

A: Embrace what is already in place.

Share the information; get the word out.

Identify resources

Q: Demopolis is a diverse community. As a new superintendent, what steps would you take to ensure that all groups are fully engaged and treated equally?

A: She would have an open-door policy, hold listening tours and set up advisory groups.

“It is important for everyone to come to the table.”

She wants her children in a diverse community “because that’s what the world is.”

Q: How would you handle a situation if a group or individual came to you with strong differing opinions concerning grades, punishment, athletics, etc.? Along with that, you have a respectful disagreement with a board member on a specific issue. How would you proceed?

A: Listening is the key. The focus should be on the student.

Make sure the proper channels are followed.

Investigate all issues. Be transparent.

As for the board, communication and transparency are necessary.

As superintendent, her job would be as management and operations, and the board’s responsibility is governance. “Respecting those two jobs and how they work together to make a great school system is so important.”

The two finalists for the superintendent opening will be announced by the DCS Board of Education on Monday at 5:30 p.m.