In many school systems, the director of schools is a lightning rod for complaints and criticism from board members, funding bodies, parents and teachers. Mike Davis is no exception.
Despite recent controversy surrounding Davis' support of using the old Lebanon High School as a middle school, the announcement of his resignation at Monday's Wilson County school board meeting caught a lot of people off guard.
"It wasn't a bombshell; nobody got blown up," he said Tuesday. "My contract was up for renewal, as it is every three years."
Davis was gracious as he explained his decision to step down.
"I enjoy what I do," he said. "It's been a great place to work, a great school system."
He has been the focus of scrutiny since he became the director of Wilson County schools in 2007. On his watch, the county school system has seen unprecedented growth and the construction or renovation of numerous schools. Davis said he thinks the things the system accomplished on his watch are a legacy of which to be proud.
"A legacy is something that you accomplish that is better as time goes on," he said. "You have to ask yourself what did you do while in office that will continue to have a positive impact? We've had success in several areas, that will leave a legacy."
That legacy includes new high schools in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon, and the soon-to-be-built new high school in Watertown.
"When I came here the No. 1 issue was rapid growth," Davis said. "That growth is continuing, and the county will continue to need facilities; that's not going to go away."
Davis said the success and growth of the system is due to a lot of people, not just him.
"We've got a great bunch of teachers who work diligently to provide a quality education for children. We have a 96 percent attendance rate, and I give the parents credit for that," he said. "It is a team effort. I've tried to be a servant leader and get the best people we can find."
Davis may have tendered his resignation, but he has not lost his sense of humor.
"I cannot take all the credit for the success of the school system, but if it was going poorly I would get all the blame," he said with a laugh.
The plan to convert parts of the old LHS to a middle school was the latest controversy Davis faced. He said opposition to the plan came from two groups - people who are opposed to the middle school concept and people who are opposed to using parts of a building they see as unfit for students.
"People who are opposed to the middle school concept don't understand that students who don't attend a middle school face more difficulty at high school level, especially with ACT tests," Davis said, adding that today students who aren't getting the level of instruction they need can take remedial courses to make up for scoring shortfalls on the test. In 2014, remedial courses will no longer be offered. "That's a huge concern."
He said changes in teacher certification rules and the ever-growing need for students to excel in "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and math) courses means that middle schools, where teachers are required to be certified in the subject they teach not just at a grade level, will serve students better as they move on to high school.
"In the future 80 to 85 percent of future jobs will be in STEM professions," Davis said. "Because of that, we need more subject specific teaches teaching in middle school. We need to provide middle school students with a more rigorous curriculum in math and science. High schools can't do it all."
He said he understands the connection people have with their community schools, but while they may be comfortable, they may not be the best way to prepare students for the challenges they will face in high school and beyond.
"It's hard to get out of your comfort zone," Davis said. "They're used to community schools with children close to their homes. But if we're going to do that we need to equipment them with computer and science labs they need for high school, or we're shortchanging students."
Davis will remain at his post until the end of the school year. What are his plans for the rest of his time as the lame duck director of schools?
"I want to ensure there is a smooth transition with whoever follows me," he said. "They'll have to hit the ground running with four building plans in progress and with the continued growth. We're 11th from the bottom in the state for expenditure on pupils and we need to pay teachers more. These challenges have to be met or we'll lose the edge we've gained."
Personally, Davis is in no hurry to find another job. In fact, after a long career in the military and as an educator, he may even finally have time to see his grandchildren.
"I'm going to weigh all the options. I may even take a vacation," he said. "I'm not going to be bored or inactive. I plan to be right here in Wilson County, and I hope to contribute in the future."
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.