CONCORD – Just two months after leaving an almost decade-long period in higher education, Dr. James Davis is back in a primary school building with two new awards under his belt.
Davis left his associate professor position at Coastal Carolina University in January of this year to become principal at WM Irvin Elementary School.
“I was happy at the university. I just wasn’t fulfilled,” Davis explained. “I enjoyed it. But there is something about being in a school building for me.”
One of his former doctoral candidate students thought he was capable in his higher education position, because she nominated him for the NCLME Higher Education Professional to Watch Award.
The award is given by the North Carolina Association of Middle Level Education to a professional working on middle school issues in a post-secondary education setting. Davis received the award in March. As an added surprise, he was also presented with the Kenneth McEwin Distinguished Service Award.
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Davis remembered watching another educator receive the service award almost 20 years ago when he first became a teacher.
“It was one of those full circle moments. I was 21, just started out as a teacher, and I remember thinking, I hope I receive that some day.”
Now more than 20 years into his education career, he achieved that goal.
One thing he did anticipate was teaching in higher education.
“I thought I would be that 30-year English teacher,” he joked.
But about seven years ago, he left to become a professor and he was chasing another goal.
“I thought I could have a greater impact by sending 50 principals out every year that I had trained,” he explained.
He stayed in higher education for seven years teaching at High Point University as well as Coastal Carolina University. He taught master’s and doctoral programs in education and principal leadership. And things were going well.
“We had a 100% pass rate on the principals’ exam state licensure five years in a row. To the credit of the team, we were doing really good work,” he said.
But something still wasn’t quite right.
“I missed the energy of kids,” he said. “There is just an energy you get in a school building that you can feed off of.”
After all, over a decade of his career was spent with that energy.
His first teaching job was at Concord Middle School. After teaching in several schools in Cabarrus and Rowan counties, Davis entered into a program to further his education and become a principal. He later completed his principal internship at Bethel Elementary School.
But whether in higher education or in a school building, his purpose for being an educator remained the same.
“I was a really poor kid growing up. My mom was really clear. She said there are three things that are going to break the cycle of poverty. She was just keeping it very real,” he said. “It is going to be your religion and she said she’d help me with that one. It is going to be relationships, and she’d help with that one. And then she said it will be education, and I had to pour into that one. “
He took that advice to heart. And even in elementary school, he decided he wanted to be a teacher. Having teachers that took an interest in him and supported him through his grade-school education inspired him to create that same impact.
Now that he’s at Irvin Elementary, he feels settled.
“I think I am at that point in my life where I want to be somewhere and stay somewhere,” he said. “I joked when I met the staff here. I said, ‘I just want you to know. I don’t think I’ll stay here very long – probably only like 15 or 20 years.'”
He also has a few goals. The first thing he wants to tackle is the low morale in education.
“I want to do my part with the morale issue,” he said. “Education is hard right now, and COVID made it even more difficult,”
He said there is already a culture of care in the school, but he wants to see a transformation into a culture of healing for students and staff.
The kids here, the teachers here, the teacher assistants, the parents —they are some of the best I have ever worked around, “he said.” I’m excited to be here. “