Knox principal leaving; third time in four years middle school is without lead educator

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The resignation of Dr. James Davis marks the third time in four years that the top spot at Knox Middle School has been vacant.
Davis, who took over as the principal of the school just last June, announced his plans to leave the Rowan-Salisbury School System on Wednesday, effective July 31.
“I am not able to disclose my future plans at this time, but this tough decision was made for the best interest of my family,” he said in an email to the Post.
A former district principal of the year, Davis came to Knox after three years as principal at China Grove Middle School.
Rodney Burton stepped down in 2011, citing personal reasons, less than two years after taking the reins in October 2009.
At that time, Davis requested a transfer to Knox.
Gerald MoragneEl resigned from Knox at the end of the 2009 academic year, citing personal reasons, after one year.
School system officials had high hopes when Davis took over, citing his strong leadership abilities and passion for the profession.
China Grove Middle met Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind program for the first time during his tenure.
Knox has not reached that goal since the program began in 2003.
Davis acknowledged the challenges at Knox and said he had plans to improve student achievement and discipline, among other things.
Just last week, Davis talked about new science, math and language courses being added at Knox for next school year in its transition to a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus.
“Knox Middle School is an awesome place,” Davis said. “I was fortunate to serve this past year as principal leading the way with many great initiatives and with many fellow leaders.
“I know these exciting initiatives will continue to blossom in the coming years because of the outstanding staff, wonderful parent and community supporters, terrific students and supportive administrators.”
Davis said this is a sad time for him as he will “greatly miss Knox.”
“Currently, I am staying focused on making sure that the remainder of the school year flows smoothly with end-of-year testing and various student-focused ceremonies.”
Another loss
Davis will be the second lauded educator to depart from Knox this year.
Joy Jenkins, a former district and regional teacher of the year, left in February after less than a year at the school.
She told a Post reporter Wednesday she opted to bow out to spend more time with her immediate family, including her parents.
“Also, my husband Scott and I are adopting a child from the Ukraine, which is a tremendous amount of work,” she said. “I knew I could not effectively direct my energies in three different directions.”
Jenkins said she misses teaching and appreciated the opportunity to work at Knox.
“I loved working with the teachers and students there,” she said. “But this is what I needed to do at this moment in my life.”
Jenkins joined Davis in a crusade to revitalize the school before students returned in August, reaching out to members of Cornerstone Church for help with cleaning, painting and landscaping.
But Cornerstone Pastor Bill Godair expressed frustration when a team from his church participated in a tour of the school in which he felt school officials downplayed the issues.
Later, school administrators disputed claims made by Godair regarding the school’s upkeep.
Moving foward
Davis said Wednesday that Knox is a “great school that should be held high as an asset to this community.”
“For some reason, I feel that Knox continues to receive negative publicity and I am unsure why,” he said. “Moments on our campus would reveal so many amazing things about our kids and the many good things going on here.
“My hope is that the Knox family and community will rally so that we can celebrate the amazing great things that are happening at Knox.”
Krista Woolly, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, said she plans to do just that.
She got a team of parents together within three hours of hearing the news of Davis’ departure Wednesday.
“We’re not going to look back,” Woolly said. “We’re going to thank him and appreciate what he’s done.”
Woolly said she plans to work with Tina Mashburn, the district’s director of middle school education, to make sure the right person is hired to lead the school.
“The need is so strong, but our resolve is stronger,” she said. “‘I think if we give up and turn out backs and say ‘that’s just Knox’ then we’re sunk and we cannot do that.”
Woolly said Davis and his administrative staff made up of Terrence Snider, Adam DeLand and Donna Hamilton have created a solid foundation for the next principal.
“We’ve got bright new teachers and seasoned professionals and the assistant principals are dedicated beyond dedicated.”
As Knox prepares to enter its second year as a STEM school, Woolly said she hopes that will serve as an attractive feature to lure a promising leader.
“We’re very sad, we’re disappointed, we’re lots of emotions,” she said. “But we’ve already begun to move forward.
“We’ve done this before, but this time we’re pretty knowledgeable.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.