New Knox principal has 100-day plan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 5, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
When Dr. James Davis takes over the top spot at Knox Middle School at the end of this school year, he won’t be walking in empty-handed.
The Rowan-Salisbury Principal of the Year has drafted a 100-day plan, which he says is already under way.
Davis said the plan consists of more than 100 points and includes categories such as community outreach, effective communication, student achievement, staff development and school beautification.
He said he looked at the school data, surveyed personnel and talked with Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom and Tina Mashburn, director of middle school education, to come up with the list.
Although Davis has a plan in place, he recognizes the schools has challenges to overcome.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be breaking out of the stereotypes that surround Knox,” he said. “We need to break some of these false misconceptions becausen Knox has so much good and so much potential.”
Knox parent Rhodes Woolly said he appreciates the fact that Davis is a “strength-based leader.”
“The community has focused so much attention on Knox’s weaknesses,” he said. “He’s already identified that, sure there are weaknesses, but there are strengths as well and we can build on those strengths and celebrate what Knox can become.”
One of Davis’ first orders of business since the school board approved his move from China Grove to Knox in May has been getting to know staff, parents and students.
He’s spent several days at the school and held meet-and-greets for parents.
“I have been very impressed with Dr. Davis’ dedication and support of Knox,” Knox parent Kathy Rusher said. “He has already had several meetings at the school to meet parents and staff, and I know we have all appreciated his honesty and his willingness to listen at these meetings.”
Davis told parents during one of the meetings that their concerns will not fall on deaf ears.
“If you email, call or drop by I will get back in touch with you within 24 hours,” he said. “That’s a hard-nose rule, that’s something I believe in.”
Davis also said he’ll have an open-door policy.
“I think that’s a catch phrase used in education and some people don’t practice an open-door policy, but I think people should have access to the principal,” he said.
Woolly said he’s already seen that policy take shape.
“He’s a very accessible guy, which is so very important and refreshing,” he said.
Newsletters and ConnectED voice recording will also be sent home regularly and Davis plans to launch a principal’s blog.
“I want there to be many ways for people to access information,” Davis said.
Knox parent Leslie Cataldo said poor communication has been a hinderance in the past.
“Parents want to know what’s going on with their children and newsletters can make a world of difference,” she said.
Davis has also been busy gathering community support.
He sent out letters to everybody he could think of asking for any type of resources they can provide.
And he’s already gotten positive responses.
“I have people that want to help, people that want to give,” he said. “This is not going to be the James Davis show, this is going to be true collaborations at its best.”
Davis has heard from professors at Catawba College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, his alma mater, who are willing to donate their time to help struggling teachers.
A publishing group is donating books and Chic-fil-A at Towne Creek Commons is chipping in to provide student and teacher incentives.
“People have offered to do landscaping and painting,” he said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Student achievement
As Davis prepares to take the reins at Knox, elevating student performance will be his top priority.
“I think what you will learn about me is that nothing supercedes classroom instruction,” he said.
Davis said “rigor” is the key word. He said all students can benefit from more challenging material.
“I think it has to be stepped up,” he said.
Knox has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) — the federal government’s measure of progress of different groups of students at the school, district and state levels against an annual target in reading and math — since the No Child Left Behind program began in 2003.
When Davis took over China Grove Middle three years ago it had also never met AYP.
“We made AYP for the first time in the school’s history and we’ve maintained that,” Davis said.
Davis said he attributes that success to getting administrators, teachers and students on the same page.
He said shifting to more induvialized staff development exercises has helped teachers at China Grove improve and he plans to do the same at Knox.
“I don’t like the one-size fits all approach,” he said. “We’re not going to do a whole group staff development just because it’s the easiest method.”
Davis said he make it a point to try to visit every single classroom every day.
“I like to be visible instead of just going in once or twice a semester,” he said.
Maintaining that visibility, he said, keeps him informed about how teachers and students are doing.
Davis said when it comes to discipline he’s ready to do what needs to be done.
“Our days will not be chaotic,” he said. “We’re either structure and productive or I”m going to do something to the nth degree to make sure structure and order are there.”
He said he’ll ensure that the school runs in an orderly manner by setting “clear defined” expectations for everyone at the school.
“I think it’s good for kids to have lots of order.”
Brighter days ahead
Davis insists brighter days are ahead for Knox.
Growing up poor with a single mother, he said he understand the challenges many of the students are facing.
“I think I’ve got a good repertoire with the kids,” he said.
But Davis said he won’t allow students to use those types of struggles as excuses.
“Not that those things aren’t legitimate,” he said. “But sometimes they can be used as crutches and I think we can deal with them, build upon them and move forward.”
Davis said the move to Knox was not forced.
“I asked to go to Knox,” he said. “I feel like Knox gets a bad rap sometime and I’m ready to be part of that turnaround team.”
And the decision wasn’t made overnight.
“I talked with my directer (Mashburn) and Dr. Grissom for several weeks to figure out if it was the best thing for the kids,” he said.
Woolly said he thinks Davis’ drive and energy will go a long way.
Although Cataldo has admits Davis has big goals she’s hopeful he can achieve them.
“You have to have faith and confidence in something,” she said. “I believe in faith 100 percent.”
Rusher said Davis’ philosophy “Love kids, support teachers, pass it on,” is a testament to his faith, and his passion for children and their education.
“ I am excited about the future of Knox,” she said. “We are fortunate that Dr. Davis wanted to come be a part of our school community, and I know Knox will benefit from his leadership.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.