From the time she was a little girl, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis wanted to be a teacher. As a young child she played school with her dolls every day when she arrived home. Each Christmas she asked for gifts for her “classroom,” such as grade books, chalkboards, and bulletin boards. 

Mary Elizabeth, who began her service with the Cherokee County School District as the new superintendent in March, says teachers have always been and remain her heroes. The daughter of two teachers, she learned lessons from her parents and teachers that continue to influence her life today.

“The reason I wanted to be a teacher was because of my teachers. Of course my parents were my first teachers, and they often said that it is a great life when you can serve your community as a teacher. That was how we were raised; we were raised in schools with my parents,” she explains. “We loved school, but I also played school every day after school, and I would do exactly what my teachers did that day. I would put my dolls in the same seating arrangements. I would teach the same lessons. Honestly, my teachers were my heroes, and I wanted to be like them. I still feel that way today.”

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis (Photo Courtesy of Cherokee County School District)

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis (Photo Courtesy of Cherokee County School District)

Mary Elizabeth’s father was a U.S. history teacher, and she grew up with a love of country and history from family talks around the dinner table. After graduating from high school in her hometown in New Jersey, Mary Elizabeth attended Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where she received a degree in chemistry and played field hockey and softball.  

Mary Elizabeth’s professional journey began in the classroom, giving her a solid foundation in educational principles and leadership. Her first teaching job straight out of college was in Fairfax, Virginia. “My dad drove me to my first interview. I have prominent memories of driving up to that school, going in, and meeting the administrative team, and really having no sense of the magnitude of the adventure that awaited.” A week before the school year started she accepted a job teaching chemistry. “I taught and loved it, and I coached and loved it,” she says.

Part of Mary Elizabeth’s interest in Fairfax County was her desire to be near Washington, D.C. “I did end up spending my summers volunteering in congressional offices [and] volunteering in the [George W.] Bush White House, which turned into a full-time job,” she recalls. “I was interested in the democratic process and policy and how representative bodies come together for the good of a country.”

Those experiences ultimately led her to the role she has with the Cherokee County School District.

“What I was attracted by was the connection between the policymaking process and the practical reality of every child in America having a quality education every day. I saw in my mind a bridge between those two environments, and I aspired to stand on that bridge and bring them closer together. That is why I love this work as superintendent,” she offers. “I really think right now the nation is craving the exemplar that demonstrates what public education can do to ensure thriving communities and successful young people.” 

Mary Elizabeth says she found herself in several organizations doing various bodies of work during different seasons of her life. Along the way she earned advanced degrees in public administration, educational leadership, and educational policy from Georgia State University.

“Now is the season to join a community that has all the ingredients to be the best performing district, not just in the state of Georgia, but across the country. I want to be a part of proving what public education does not only to retain the strength of a community but to elevate it even further.” 

Mary Elizabeth says she is impressed with the quality and caliber of the teaching profession and teachers in the Cherokee County School District. “The professional skill and talent in our classrooms are absolutely inspiring. I am also seeing this very impressive culture of going the extra mile. Our teachers are very dedicated to doing what is good for kids and also being great in their content and course areas.”

Cherokee County school board member Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison points out that the new superintendent is already making an impact on the Cherokee County School District in her first months in the role. “Dr. Davis was extremely impressive in her first and second interviews for superintendent with her knowledge of Cherokee County. Then in her first months, the amount of work [she did] in contacting individuals, meeting and observing with literally more than a thousand individuals from seven in the morning until late at night is even more impressive. She is overwhelmed with the talent and commitment from every sector of the community and has come up with a theme of ‘Elevating Excellence,’” the school board member points out. “The organization, routine examination of work products, and accountability at all levels will be monitored and enhanced. You cannot help but listen to her and absorb the enthusiasm.”

Family Life

Mary Elizabeth met her husband, P. J. Davis, in college, where he played basketball. He then coached college basketball after graduating, before beginning a career in finance that ultimately led the family to Georgia. The couple has two elementary-aged children, Attlie Hope and Trey. “Our kids love school and love to play sports. They are excited to come to Cherokee,” Mary Elizabeth points out.

“We really love to be together as a family. I love doing homework at the kitchen table. I love when we can have a rainy Saturday together and be still. Our kids are such a blessing and such a gift. We love our time reading books and being outside. We love to cook together, and we love our holidays together.”

Nationwide 26 percent of school superintendents are women, and of those, only 2 percent have school-age children.

Mary Elizabeth says she sees her role as an opportunity to show her children how to serve the community. “I work hard to create a proper balance, so my kids have my full attention when I’m with them, and then I am all in during my work time. This profession offers a lot of ways to include your kids. When you see me at a football game on Friday night, I will have my kids with me,” she says. She also acknowledges the importance of her husband’s support.

Mary Elizabeth is grateful to be able to serve in schools and cares deeply about the 43,000 children in the school system, knowing how much families are counting on her and all who work for the Cherokee County School District. “I love what we get to do. I love kids; I love the profession of teaching. I love and have constant admiration for the work it takes, from a bus driver and a school-nutrition employee and a custodian, and how all of those pieces work together to bring access to a quality education,” Mary Elizabeth says. “This is not just a personal task; this is a professional conviction about the role public education plays in America, the importance of public education to strong and thriving communities and that every child deserves to be believed in and given access to a successful future.”

 

 

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