The winner of the 2018 F.L. Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award has been described as “entrepreneurial” in his approach to finding resources to help train school staff. But the adjective also could be applied to many other aspects of Keith Davis’ decade leading the Bullitt County school district.
Davis received the top superintendent award from the Kentucky School Boards Association during its annual conference March 2–4 in Louisville. He is retiring at the end of the current school year after spending 22 years in the district, starting as assistant middle school principal and then moving into principal and district finance positions before being named superintendent in 2007.
KSBA Executive Director Kerri Schelling, left, and KSBA President David Webster, right, present
Bullitt County Superintendent Keith Davis with the 2018 F.L. Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award.
“As superintendent, I understand that being unfairly blamed for things is part of the job ... in the same way we get unfairly credited for the good things that happen and I can say without any sense of false humility that the improvement in our school district over the past 11 years stems almost entirely on my part from being able to recognize talent and empowering those talented people to do what needs to be done,” Davis said in accepting the award and thanking district staff.
He paid tribute to his fellow superintendents who provided camaraderie and served as models for him; thanked the community and the students; and praised the school boards he has worked with. “Without the support of the board, especially in the early years of my tenure, we would not be the district we are today,” he said.
One of those school board members, Dolores Ashby, wrote in his nomination for the Dupree Award, which is sponsored by the family of F.L. Dupree Sr. and judged by previous recipients, “Mr. Davis has instituted numerous research-based programs to enhance instruction and academic achievement in BCPS.”
Among those programs is the Bullitt Advanced Math and Science Program (BAMS) and the Discovery School, an accelerated science, technology, engineering and math-focused program for middle school students. In BAMS, high school students can accelerate their education and end up with an associate degree when they graduate. For Discovery School, students can earn high school credits.
Davis also retooled and enhanced the district’s gifted and talented program, for which he won the Service and Advocacy Award in 2013 from the Kentucky Association for Gifted Education and the Ball State Administrator of the Year award in 2015 from the National Association for Gifted Children.
“Mr. Davis and our Board of Education members have allocated over four times the amount of funding that the state provides to help deliver resources that gifted students need,” in addition to BAMS and the Discovery School, said district Gifted and Talented Coordinator Sarah Coomer.
For struggling students, the district, under Davis’ leadership, initiated the Literacy Enhancement and Advancement Program (LEAP), which links schools, families and the community to provide extra literacy instruction to at-risk primary students. Similarly, he implemented programs to help students with academic deficits. Davis also helped form the Bullitt County Foundation for Excellence in Public Education that gives grants to teachers for classroom projects.
John R. Snider, executive director of the Bullitt County Development Authority, praised improvements that Davis led in the area technology center and in student college and career readiness. “We are now seeing students come out of the system which are job ready. We are now producing an individual with the skills to gain jobs in this economy,” Snider wrote in nominating Davis, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Kentucky University and a doctorate in education from University of Louisville.
The entrepreneurial spirit that led him to create academic programs extends into his community partnerships. Snider noted Davis’ efforts to ease the community’s growth-related issues, from roads to broadband. “With existing and new businesses in the county, Keith reaches out to form partnerships and encourages those entities to give back to the community via the school system,” Snider said.
Davis also sits on the board of the local chamber of commerce, which has strengthened the bond between the business community and the schools, said Lou Anne Moore, president of the Bullitt County Foundation for Excellence in Public Education.
Given his work in school finance, it’s not surprising Davis’ nomination praised his efforts in that area. Ashby pointed to district revenue growth, but also noted that “Mr. Davis squeezes every penny of our funds till it screams.” The district has set a tax rate that produces 4 percent more in revenue each year since 2007.
In addition, efficiencies have been made through central office reorganizations, technology improvements and facility reviews. Under Davis, the district was named 2016 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award in Energy Management for its energy efficiency improvements, which have saved the system more than $5.5 million since 2006.
Staff, student relations
Bullitt County Education Association President Kimberly Ludwig, a math teacher, said Davis has “pushed the teachers in this county to improve and become better leaders.” She meets monthly with Davis, who she said is responsive to concerns she conveys. “During these meetings, Mr. Davis and I may not agree, but I always feel that my opinion is valued and that my concerns are heard,” Ludwig wrote in support of his nomination.
Davis emails employees summaries of each school board meeting and sends school board members weekly updates. Johnda Conley with the Bullitt County Retired Teachers Association pointed to various supports for teachers that have been implemented districtwide, including the addition of instructional coaches, and curriculum and technology integration specialists, as well as collaborations with local universities and training centers.
Davis speaks to all eighth-graders at the six middle schools toward the end of the school year, to encourage them to think about their future and how taking the right classes in high school can get them to where they want to go.
Newly elected state Rep. Linda Belcher, a former Bullitt County teacher and principal, said Davis was a resource for her on education issues during her previous stint in the legislature. “Value for education has improved, employers have become interested in locating in our county and people are moving into our area for the schools. We need to attribute so many of our Improvements to the leadership of Keith Davis,” she wrote.