Saying farewell, but not goodbye

Superintendent Ed Davis steps away from UCPS, but isn’t going too far

by Mike Parks

Superintendent Ed Davis is looking forward to spending some more time with his wife Kathy now that they both are retired. The two started teaching in Union County in 1977, and Kathy stepped away four years ago. Her husband joins her in retirement this weekend. Photo courtesy of UCPS

Ed Davis packed up his desk this week, getting ready to step away from a school system he’s been a part of in some way for more than 30 years. And though he’s passing on the mantle of superintendent to another this weekend, he’ll remain in classrooms across Union County indefinitely through all those he’s touched.

Davis announced his plans to retire at a meeting this January – actually one day after he revealed the news to his own children. His wife, Kathy, had known since last summer, when Davis told her he was ready to spend less time with the daily grind of running one of the state’s largest school systems and more time seeing what Kathy enjoyed so much about being retired.

“My family made a lot of sacrifices for me to be in these leadership roles,” Davis said Wednesday, June 27, reflecting on his 35 years in education in Union County – especially the last few, which saw him leading a school system experiencing explosive growth coupled with what some would say was little to no help from county or state coffers.

Little did Davis know the stress this last year would have brought, what with budget cuts continuing to threaten school systems across the nation as the recession lingers. Earlier this year he had to watch as nearly 350 teacher assistant jobs were cut, only to see those jobs likely put back in place this week.

“It’s a demanding job,” Davis said of being superintendent, “physically, mentally and emotionally.” His family didn’t push him to retire; he made that decision on his own. His wife’s advice: “She told me I would know when the time was right for me.”

That time officially starts this weekend, when Mary Ellis takes over as superintendent Sunday, July 1. The switch in nameplate on a desk somewhere in Monroe will bring an end to 35 years of leadership for Davis, at least in a full-time position. But it doesn’t mean the legions of students, faculty and staff Davis has reached are going anywhere.

Davis broke into the teaching game back in 1977 – the same year as his then new bride did. He taught exceptional children at Benton Heights Elementary, then part of the Monroe city school district; she started as a teacher assistant in the county school system before eventually moving on to teach social studies at Sun Valley Middle along side a young language arts teacher named Mary Ellis. Kathy Davis’ career then moved on to Weddington Middle when it opened, before she eventually retired four years ago.

Her husband followed a different path, working at Benton Heights for about four years before moving on to Walter Bickett, where he continued his work with middle- and high school-aged exceptional students. Next came an assistant principal gig at Piedmont High and principal roles at Wingate Elementary and Parkwood High. He moved to the district office as an assistant superintendent in 2000, and got called up to the big chair in 2005.

But no matter how far up the ladder he got, Davis still keeps memories from his very beginning close to the surface. Reflecting on Wednesday, he remembered a student in one of his first exceptional children class.

“She was a big fan of the television show Dallas,” Davis recalled. “I never watched it, but I kind of knew what was going on, so I’d pick on her about it and ask things like, ‘What’s happening on Dallas?”

That relationship meant a lot to Davis, and it must have meant a lot to his student, because her parents asked Davis to speak when she received her graduation certificate.

Davis has seen other students in his exceptional children class go on to find success in life and find jobs despite their challenging situation. “It’s very satisfying to see them adjust to adult life.”

It’s also been satisfying for Davis to see some of his former students become leaders themselves, teaching in Union County schools and making sure Davis’ impact never stops being felt.

“I was at Piedmont High School one day … (and saw) a young man who teaches there who was a student at Parkwood when I was there,” Davis recalled. “And I just remember him as a great kid and a young man I felt had a lot to give back and a young man of character and integrity. (It’s) neat to know you had some small influence on them and now they’re educating others.”

And Davis will keep helping others reach leadership positions. For a while he’s held an adjunct position at Wingate University, helping future principals and assistant principals get their doctorates. He says he’ll probably continue doing that, as well as keep up his work on the boards of the United Way and Boys and Girls Club. Later he may get involved in the Education Foundation.

“I’m not going to make any hasty decisions about what I’m going to do next,” Davis said.”

So, if the next few years aren’t exactly clear yet, what is? Some traveling and family time? Definitely. Seeing what Kathy has been enjoying about retirement these last few years? Without a doubt, Davis says.

“I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with her.”

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