One of the things Bryan Davis likes about his new job as superintendent of Shorewood Public Schools is his proximity to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Davis, who earned his master’s in administrative leadership and his doctorate in urban education at UWM’s School of Education, is looking forward to opportunities to stay connected to the university.
After serving as superintendent of the Columbus School District since 2010, Davis started at Shorewood this summer. He previously served as principal of Green Bay Southwest High School and the associate principal of Green Bay Preble High School.
Davis entered the field of education because he felt a calling to teach and also enjoyed coaching. His mother and grandmother were teachers “so it’s somewhat in the family.”
He earned his master’s at UWM while teaching high school in Oshkosh. When he found out about a partnership program SOE had with UW-Green Bay, he decided to continue on to earn his doctorate in urban education. Classes were held in Green Bay during spring and fall, and the students came to the UWM campus in the summer. “It was great program and a great experience. Tom Joynt (now retired from the School of Education) was one of my mentors and a liaison with the Green Bay cohort.”
In spite of the challenges today’s superintendents deal with, Davis sees the position as a continuation of his lifelong commitment to education. “It’s always been energizing to be in the school environment. I like the ability to make a difference, and I really enjoy the community engagement part of the job.”
He was attracted to the position in Shorewood because the district is a diverse, yet small and tight-knit community located near an urban center.
“Shorewood is similar in size to Columbus. You see people you know at church, at the grocery store and walking the dog. My wife and I like that kind of environment to raise our children in.”
The school district’s strong academic reputation and support for the arts – it was ranked Number 1 in the state by U.S. News and World Report in 2013 — were also key factors in his decision to apply for the position, Davis said.
Like any district, Shorewood faces challenges, and Davis credits his work at UWM for helping him prepare for them. Funding is one concern – “certainly the environment in the state has been difficult for public education so we have to be creative in budgeting and planning for our programs.”
Another key challenge, he said is meeting the needs of all students. Like many systems, there are significant achievement gaps between white and black students, Davis said. “We want to make sure all our students are growing.
Currently, the Shorewood system is 60-65 percent white and 35-40 percent students of color. While an increasing number of families of color live in the district, many also come through the Chapter 220 voluntary integration program. “Part of what I want to do is make sure students who live outside the district feel welcome and their parents can be engaged in the schools.”
Shorewood is also diverse culturally and linguistically. “We have students speaking more than 20 different languages here,” said Davis.
He sees that diversity as one of many positives about the district because it helps prepare students to live in an increasingly multicultural world. “Our district is a great representation of the world, and will growing up in that environment will give our students a leg up in the future.”
Davis’ UWM studies, especially in the urban education doctoral program, have helped prepare him for conversations about race and how that plays out in the schools, he said.
“Our studies on critical race theory and being able to dig deep into the literature around the dynamics of race in school helped prepare me for this work,” he said. SOE faculty members like Floyd Beachum and Thandeka Chapman mentored him in developing leadership skills in that area, he said. “I think that’s something UWM provides that other universities don’t. This is an area where UWM can continue to lead and build on for the future.”
Davis is spending the summer getting to know teachers, administrators and staff. “My commitment is to be out in classrooms and buildings as much as possible because that’s really where the work happens.”
Starting this fall, the school board, teachers, staff and administrators will be continuing a visioning process to help the district develop a strategic plan for the future. “I plan to do a lot of listening and learn as much as I can.
Davis and wife Dawn have four children. The oldest, Kayla is at UW-Oshkosh, but the other three – Lauren, Madisen and Aliyah – are in Shorewood schools.
“I feel strongly about leading the system that our kids are in. I have a true investment in what our district is doing.”
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