Dr. James Keith Davis DCS Superintendent Interview – 7/20/2015

SuperintendentDr. James Keith Davis, superintendent of Winfield City Schools, interviewed for the Demopolis City Schools superintendent post Monday, July 20. The following is an overview of the interview that took place in front of the DCS board of education and a capacity audience at Rooster Hall Monday.

Q: 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: Noted time spent as English teacher, athletic coach, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent before taking over as superintendent of Winfield City Schools.

“One thing I learned as an administrator is that the staff always knows you have their back.”

Noted that he helped start a scholarship program at Winfield through which every high school graduate is guaranteed at least two years of college.

“I think it’s very important that every kid in high school knows there’s life after high school.”

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: Emphasis on communication. Emphasis on willingness to listen. Emphasis on willingness to recognize personal missteps and bad ideas.

“I’ll be the first person to punt if I have to.”

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: Emphasis on communication. Emphasis on transparency. Emphasis on open forums with community stakeholders.

“No one likes the unknown. I don’t like the unknown.”

“The key word is communication. If I am chosen as superintendent, I will probably overkill with information sometimes.”

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: Comfortable in curriculum, considers it a great personal strength

Emphasis on curriculum that goes beyond testing

“I am a big believer in student achievement. If all you do is train kids for a test, you’re not educating them.”

“Assessment is about accountability.”

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: Emphasis on open forums, meeting with stakeholders.

Emphasis on taking time to implement changes

Emphasis on spending time on campuses and listening to teachers, principals and others

“The key is, I’d do it slowly. The worst thing a superintendent can do is try to do everything at one time.”

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: “One of my strengths is identifying where my revenue sources are and figuring out how to best use them.”

Winfield City system is currently building a $2 million all-sports building while still having some $2.5 million left in the general fund.

“I can tell from walking around this community, there’s a lot of resources available.”

Emphasis on communication

Emphasis on importance of allowing stakeholders to know the scope and reasoning of building plans

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: Noted such experiences in previous answer (see: all-sports building)

Noted that such partnerships and corresponding facilities are major positives for school system.

Noted potential of the former New Era building and the potential to procure additional funding from yet-to-be-identified sources in completing the endeavor.

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: Noted Demopolis as the “total package”

– safe school

– buildings well managed

– teachers with good morale

– high and low functioning students have a home

– career tech programs

– extracurricular activities alive and well

– school spirit

– learning should be fun

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: Noted that he has more than 20 years as an administrator

“An unhappy teacher makes an unhappy classroom.”

“Most teachers are good teachers. They’re there because they want to teach.”

Emphasis on creating the climate for learning

Emphasis on listening to teacher concerns even if they cannot be directly addressed at a given time

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

A: “If you don’t have a school climate, you don’t have a school. If the kids don’t behave, you cannot teach.”

Emphasis on “no exceptions” in a code of conduct

Noted that students appreciate parameters

Parents also need to be aware of expectation levels.

“The majority of parents are going to support the teacher.”

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: Noted importance of spending time on campuses to observe performance

“The teachers are in the trenches. It’s extremely important that building administrator creates an environment for learning to take place.”

Emphasized communication with administrator

Emphasis on clear explanation of expectations and rationale in establishing them

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: Emphasized the importance of relying on community stakeholders

“You can’t be where you want to be unless you have help from the outside.”

“They’re a tremendous communication tool for us.”

Noted that Winfield has articulation agreements with business leaders and civic groups

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: “I’m going to treat everybody the same. I’m not a politician. I don’t do politics. I do school.”

Emphasized that every child, regardless of background, must have the same opportunity

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: Would refer individual through the proper chain (teacher, principal, superintendent, board member) depending upon circumstance.

Emphasized communication

“We’re all professionals. We all want the same thing.”

In a moment of levity: “The people who find me the most disagreeable are the ones who disagree with me the most. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

—- Each candidate will see the same 15 questions from the DCS Board of Education.

Following those questions, Davis took questions from audience members and punctuated his time with a closing statement.

“I know what this school district can be. It would give me tremendous pleasure working with you to get it back to where I know it can be. You’ve got too many resources for it to not be where you want it to be.”