School days over for administrator Retiring Davis found teaching was calling after scientific start

November 22, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The man whom thousands of Carroll County youth knew as a principal and assistant principal will retire next month from a 37-year education career that almost wasn't.

Edwin L. Davis, 61, who has been director of pupil services for Carroll schools since 1990, was the son and nephew of teachers, but started out as a nuclear physicist.

It was the 1960s, during a renaissance in American science. Davis chose the path that involved conveying that renewed excitement about science to youth.

"What I was doing [as a physicist], anybody with training could do," Davis said. "When I was working with kids, I felt the interaction was unique between me and that person."

During master's degree work at the College of William and Mary in the 1960s, he taught high school science and found it was what he loved.

"The interaction with kids allowed me to be me, as opposed to counting neutrons in a reactor," said Davis.

From counting neutrons to counting students -- and counting them tardy -- Davis worked his way to one of the top administrative positions that determines the kind of experience a student will have in Carroll County schools.

As director of pupil services, Davis has directed such efforts as disciplining an ever-growing number of students who show an ever-indecreasing respect for authority. He oversees school nurses, counselors, pupil-personnel workers, psychologists, evening high school and adult education.

He's the man who enforces the residency requirements when people who live outside the county want to send their children to school here.

He's the man who decides the fate of a student who has been repeatedly truant, violent or faces a long suspension or expulsion.

"As an administrator, my class became bigger," Davis said. He doesn't work with students on the front lines, unless they have had serious problems at home or in school.

"Most of the time, when we get to this level, we're looking for solutions -- where do we go from here? The consequences can be significant -- the ability to bring a situation to a close and get kids started in a new direction."

Davis started teaching science and math in 1961 at Westminster High School, then at Sykesville High School, which no longer exists.

In 1967, he was an assistant principal at the new South Carroll High School, which brought together students from Sykesville and Mount Airy. He was assistant principal at Westminster High School in 1971, the year it opened in its current location.

In 1975, he was North Carroll High School's first principal, before becoming principal at Westminster High from 1987 to 1990.

'Commanded respect'

Dona Voitelle, executive assistant to the superintendent, was Davis' student in 1962 at Sykesville High. Even though she has worked for Davis' boss for the past 20 years, she thinks of Davis as her teacher.

"When he's talking to me, he's talking very patiently and slowly. 'Now let me explain this to you, Dona.' He was one of those teachers who, when you went in, you got down to work," Voitelle said. "He absolutely commanded respect. He didn't have to demand it. He commanded it."

Colleagues know him as the man who asks the hard questions just as everyone else thinks a consensus has been reached.

Peter B. McDowell, retired director of secondary schools, recalled the Socratic approach Davis took through years of working together at Westminster High and in the central administration.

When Davis spoke at meetings, his colleagues would hold their breath. Inevitably, he would bring up a fly in the ointment that the rest had missed.

"As soon as you thought you had everything covered, he would bring up a wrinkle that no one else thought of, and made you wonder why you thought the idea would work in the first place," McDowell said. "Sometimes it was at my expense."

Dorothy Mangle, assistant superintendent of schools, said it happened so often she couldn't think of an example. It became a role that everyone depended on Davis to fulfill.

"He just does it so routinely," Mangle said. "He's just a very reflective thinker. He seems to be able to step out of the box and say, 'This is something we need to consider.' "

A grounding in science and math is evident in the way Davis carefully answers questions, doesn't make generalizations and doesn't bother with small talk. When asked to talk about some of his thornier cases and decisions involving students, he declined.

"I wouldn't want them to read about it," he said.

'Didn't make it back'

In his summers as an upperclassman at Salem College in his native West Virginia, Davis began working for the Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1950s in South Carolina. When he graduated in 1960 with a bachelor of science degree, he worked at that reactor for a year, studying new kinds of fuel cells.

He was accepted into two master's programs, one at Carnegie-Mellon University, the other at the College of William and Mary, which offered him a scholarship and the opportunity to teach.

"I thought I would work on my master's and then make my way back," Davis said. "I did work on my master's, but I didn't make it back."

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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