HARRODSBURG — Dennis Davis has spent most of his life either as a student, teacher or administrator for Mercer County Schools.
Last month, the Board of Education unanimously hired Davis as the school system’s permanent superintendent. Davis, 42, spent the 2011-12 academic year as interim superintendent after Chuck Hamilton resigned to lead Marion County’s school district. Before that, Davis spent five years as the 9th Grade Academy principal.
Davis enjoyed the support of many community members and Mercer County teachers as well as administrators from other districts including Danville, Boyle County, Burgin and Mason County.
Chuck Stallard, director of pupil personnel for Danville Independent Schools, was principal at Mercer County Senior High School when Davis taught special education there from 1999 to 2000.
“Dennis is a great guy,” Stallard said. “I can’t say enough good things about him and his work.”
Davis was born and raised in Harrodsburg, leaving for just two years to live in Richmond while he earned a master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University and worked as an in-school suspension supervisor at Bourbon County High School. Davis returned to Harrodsburg in 1995 for a similar position at Mercer County High School. He married his wife, Tara, that same year.
“The main reason that I decided to become an educator was the many great teachers and coaches I had at the Mercer County schools,” Davis said. “Many of these people touched my life in some way and that is what I wanted to do also. I wanted to try and make a difference in young people the way my teachers and coaches did in my own life.”
The new superintendent worked with in-school suspension and special education in the early years of his Mercer County career and said he could only think of one or two instances where a student absolutely refused to behave properly.
“We honestly have great kids here,” Davis said. “The students have always been so respectful to me, regardless of which position I was in.”
One of the major changes in Mercer County education since Davis was a student and then a teacher was the founding of the 9th Grade Academy. The school focuses only on the needs of about 235 high school freshmen.
“It (freshman year) is a hard time in kids’ lives,” Davis said. “It’s great to be able to focus directly on their needs for a year before sending them to the high school for grades 10 to 12.”
Davis said while he will still impact 3,100 Mercer County public school students as superintendent, he will have less direct contact with them and will miss that aspect of his career.
“I love working with kids so much,” Davis said. “As superintendent, I try to get to at least one of our schools every day to talk with principals, teachers and students.”
Davis has two children of his own. Drew, 15, just finished his time at the 9th Grade Academy.
Emma, 12, attends King Middle School. Davis’ main interest outside of work is being involved in their lives, though he also enjoys watching all kinds of movies.
One of the biggest challenges Davis faces as a superintendent and a parent is keeping up with rapidly advancing technology.
“These days, students have to compete globally for jobs,” Davis said. “We need to make sure we teach our students computer skills and that technology helps their education, not hinders it.”
Another challenge is decreased availability of state and federal school funding. The 2012-13 budget is actually $1.4 million less than the 2007-08 budget.
However, Davis said the last superintendent made wise financial decisions and as a result the public schools will only have to cut 2.5 positions in the upcoming year.
One of his objectives in his new role is to make Mercer County Schools a top 10 district where students learn to compete at all levels from the classroom to extracurricular activities.
While there is no “magic bullet” to make this happen, the key to any type of success is in building quality relationships, Davis said.
“We must have a common goal and have everyone working toward that goal,” Davis said. “We must include our community members and parents in the decision making process.”