Dr. Baron Davis on episode 156 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Dr. Baron Davis believes in building partnerships with parents, businesses, and the community. Today we talk about partnerships but we also discuss casting a vision, solving problems, and how district leaders can handle the stress. Baron is the superintendent of Richland School District 2 in South Carolina. This is a show you’ll want to share with anyone in district leadership.
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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Powerful Leadership, Vision, and Problem Solving for Districts
Monday, September 25, 2017
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Dr. Baron Davis @DrBaronDavis, a superintendent in South Carolina about really casting a vision.
Now, Baron, you and I have talked. You really like to bring a lot of people to the table to help them understand their role in really helping our schools be excellent.
How do you cast a vision? What do you say?
How do you cast this vision, and what are the kind of things that you say?
Baron: Well, first of all, thank you for having me on this show.
I think that that’s a very good question, and it really starts with the development of a vision and getting key people involved as you’re crafting the vision as a school leader.
Our vision of Richland School District 2 in Columbia, South Carolina, is to be the premier school district – a learning and working environment where all partners are committed to creating, sustaining and investing in a culture and a climate of excellence.
And where everyone’s afforded an opportunity to get some talents as they pursue their pathways to purpose.
I think having a vision like that was so easy for folk to galvanize or be attracted to. Everybody has a gift and a talent. Everybody wants to be committed to excellence.
To get them to see their part in that, and to see that they have not only a role to play, but also the vision is about them as well.
Who do you consider partners of your district?
Vicki: So, when you say “them”… who are you reaching? Your audience is not just students and teachers. It’s more, isn’t it? Who is it?
Baron: Right. It is very broad. It is students and their parents. They’re considered partners.
We talk about partners. We have three components to our partners:
- There are our students and their parents.
- There are employees who are partners.
- Then we talk about our community.
When we look at our community, we’re talking about the business community, the faith-based community, the support systems of our students – their grandparents, maybe any individual that has a connection to the community that surrounds our school district. All of them have an important role in the partnership of working together to provide a premier educational experience for all of our students.
What do you ask the partner organizations to do?
Vicki: Now there are some schools that just want businesses and faith-based organizations and parents to give their money — and leave the educating to the school.
Vicki: What are the things that you ask these group to do, as they work with you to improve your school?
Baron: Each one of them can play a specific role.
You know, when we’re talking to our business community, for example, our business community has a very important role to play when it comes to the education of students in our state. Where our schools are funded in the state of South Carolina, our businesses shoulder the majority of the tax revenue that goes to funds for schools in the state.
So it’s important that we can continue to produce or help have a great product when it comes to the performance of our students. That, in turn, impacts the businesses, because it impacts people coming to our community and wanting to enroll their students in our school district.
So they have to see their connection to that. And they also have an influence when it comes to meeting with legislators and other individuals that make policies.
So it is helping them see that they have that part. It’s not simply just kind of saying, “Hey, we’ve done our part, and that’s it.”
And it’s the same thing with our parents and the same thing with faith-based organizations. We do a lot of what we call parent advisory councils. We have faith-based organization advisory councils. We have business advisory councils. We meet with them on a monthly basis, and we try to give them as much information as we can about what’s going on in our schools so they can serve as ambassadors in the community about the things that have taken place in our district.
Vicki: So… that’s a lot of meetings to have!
How do you make time for meetings with these groups?
Vicki: How do you take those things and put them into action? Because, you know, some superintendents aren’t so eager to meet with parents and business people because they kind of feel like they get “bashed” a lot.
Baron: It is difficult. It’s a lot of time that’s involved. But what we do have our strategic plan that we have in place, and we use our strategic plan as our North Star on how we operate in the district. And within that strategic plan, there are components and times that are set aside to meet with those individual groups.
But the superintendent doesn’t shoulder that responsibility all by himself. I have various people within the school district that of course help with getting that message out — and of course meeting and listening to the concerns of our parents.
And it’s not all parents. Our parent advisory council consists of typically the SIC presidents from the various schools in our district. We meet once a month, and they bring issues to the table and we have an opportunity to discuss those issues. We share information with them to go back out and communicate to the individual parent groups at their schools.
But it’s important to have that opportunity, and not get bogged down in information and forget about communication. That’s something that we really want to work on here in our district – to practice more of communicating and relying less on providing a bunch of information.
What are the biggest mistakes districts often make with community partners?
Vicki: Yeah. So Baron, let’s say a new superintendent was starting his or her job today. If they came to you for advice, and said, “What are the biggest mistakes that I need to avoid when working with the parents, and the community, and the faith-based organizations and grandparents. What mistakes should I avoid?”
What would you tell them?
Baron: I would say, avoid the perception that those parents or individuals are not committed to the success of their students. That commitment and that support to the success of their students looks different for different people. The only way that you can get any kind of idea of what it looks like is to interact with them.
So finding opportunities to immerse yourself in the community in an informal way will kind of give you a better idea of what that looks like for that particular family or that particular group of individuals.
So that’s something that I would recommend to a new superintendent – to try to remove some of the formal barriers between themselves and the community that their school serves.
How do you cope with the worst days as superintendent?
Vicki: So Baron, how do you handle your worst days? Because, you know, you’re in a hard job. You’re in a job that wears people down and burns people out. When you have one of “those days,” how do you deal with it? How do you cope?
Baron: That’s a good question. I’m probably still working on figuring out the best coping mechanisms. (laughs)
Baron: My coping strategies as a new superintendent, and as a fairly young superintendent… I think one of the ways that I definitely cope is that I have a strong faith. I try not to show too much of those difficult issues that come up, where I let them wear me down. It’s a part of the job. It’s a part of the role. So I embrace it.
But I try to spend time, of course, with my family where I’m not focused necessarily on some of those bigger issues that have just come up.
And I try to address concerns as quickly as possible so they don’t fester and become bigger.
Baron: I think that’s a really big, really great strategy. If you see something that eventually turns into something big – address it immediately or as quickly as you can. You’ll save yourself some stress down the road if you do that.
Vicki: Today’s headache is tomorrow’s hospital visit. (laughs)
Vicki: I mean, how else can you put it? That’s what happens in schools. If you ignore problems, they just grow, don’t they?
Baron: Exactly. They just grow… and they collect. They get added, and so the problem gets bigger and it adds to the other big problem that you have, and now there’s a new big problem. So I try to address them as quickly as possible — or make sure someone’s addressing them, should I say, as quickly as possible.
30 Second Pep Talk to Education Leaders to Unleash Excitement
Vicki: So Baron, as we finish up, could you give us a 30-second pep talk as if you were talking to those leaders. What do you say to unleash the excitement about your schools?
Baron: That’s a great question.
I would say that every student, every teacher, every employee, every parent, every person in your community has a gift and a talent. It is our job as educators to help them discover what that gift and what that talent is, and then give them a platform to demonstrate that gift and talent so that they can find their passions.
If they can find their passions and put those passions into actions, then that will help lead them to their purpose. Once they’re working within their purpose, they will find the joy in the work. They will continue to do it, and continue to impact others.
Our job is to help build citizens for tomorrow, so those citizens can lead and excel in whatever pathway they decide to take.
Vicki: Oh, I’m fired up, and I want to come visit your school tomorrow. (laughs)
Vicki: So teachers and principals and superintendents, we have a really Motivating Monday topic for us today.
You know what? I might just replay that last little piece several times and get it in my own mind – this whole philosophy of helping people put their passions and their strengths into action in finding their purpose.
I mean, talk about a great thing for us educators to do. I’m more motivated myself!
Baron: Awwww, sounds great. I’m always pumped up and motivated to do that! (laughs)
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Dr. Baron R. Davis – Bio as Submitted
An educator for almost 20 years, Dr. Baron R. Davis is Richland School District Two’s Superintendent. Davis served as one of the district’s assistant superintendents prior to his transition year as superintendent-elect. As an assistant superintendent, he supported overall educational excellence in the schools by providing leadership, administrative direction, supervision and technical support.
Davis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Francis Marion University. From the University of South Carolina, he earned master’s degrees in school counseling and educational administration, and Educational Specialist and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in educational counseling. He holds superintendent, school counseling, secondary principal and secondary supervision certifications. In addition to his formal educational training, Davis has participated and completed numerous educational leadership programs offered through the South Carolina Department of Education including the Tapping Executive Educators Program, the School Leadership Executive Institute, and the South Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program, and the Riley Institute at Furman University Diversity Leaders Initiative.
During his educational career, Davis has served as a successful school leader in rural, urban and suburban school systems where his schools were recognized for closing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates and increasing Advanced Placement participation rates. While principal of Spring Valley, the school was recognized by the Washington Post as one of America’s Most Challenging High Schools and by Newsweek as one of America’s Top High Schools.
In the role of assistant superintendent, Davis helped to establish the Richland Two Assistant Principal Academy, the Administrators Development Series, the Training Administrators Program and the Administrators Mentoring Program. Under his guidance, all five of the district’s high schools were accepted to TransformSC’s network of innovative schools in May 2016. He also provided overall supervision for the opening of R2i2; which included the selection, development, and implementation of academic areas of focus, course development, the establishment of partnerships, selection of personnel, development of organizational structure, building supervision, and day-to-day operations.
Davis’s support of education and his community extends beyond Richland Two. He has served as a principal mentor and coach for induction principals participating in the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of School Leadership Principal Induction Program. Currently, he serves on the Francis Marion University Alumni Board, the University of South Carolina Trio Programs Advisory Board, the South Carolina Male Achievement Conference Planning Committee, Rotary International (Spring Valley Club, Columbia S.C.), national and state associations of school administrators, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (Omicron Phi Chapter). He participates in the City of Columbia’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Davis was inducted into the Columbia Housing Authority’s Wall of Fame in 2015 and in past years has given service to the University of South Carolina’s Department of Counselor Education Advisory Council and the SCASA Institute of Innovation Planning Committee. Most recently, Davis was selected as the 2017 Administrator of the Year for both the Richland County Education Office Professionals and the National Association of Educational Office Professionals.
Davis, a Columbia native, is a member of Brookland Baptist Church. He and his wife, Pamela, have three daughters, all of whom attend school in Richland Two.
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