By Shelby Stills
For almost 30 years, Keith Davis has been out of a public school classroom. But it wasn’t until he was on the brink of retirement that he realized he had more gas in the tank.
This fall, Davis is making his return to the classroom, teaching math at Frost Sixth-Grade Academy (Jefferson County). The school – comprised of only 6th graders – aims for every scholar to be successful, organized, achieving and respectful (SOAR) by being proficient in reading, mathematics and writing by the end of the school year.
Davis started his career teaching math and history at Butler County Middle School in 1991. He went on to be an assistant principal at Hebron Middle School (Bullitt County) in 1996, which he said was his favorite position of his career. From assistant principal, he worked his way up to the position of principal of Hebron Middle School in 1999, before becoming assistant superintendent in 2000 and later superintendent of Bullitt County schools in 2007.
After serving as superintendent until 2018, Davis decided to retire – until the University of Louisville picked him to work as an associate clinical professor, teaching principal and superintendent preparation courses.
Originally from Green County, Davis wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life until a college roommate piqued his interest in teaching. He knew he wanted to make a difference and decided education was his calling.
Davis said his experience of growing up in poverty motivated him to push through his education and make an impact on his students.
“In all of my jobs, there’s the idea that all kids, even those from less wealthy backgrounds, can achieve at high levels if given the right support, the right resources and the right people believing in them,” he said.
During his time at UofL, class discussions about equity, lack of resources for children in poverty and teacher shortages made Davis realize that he needed to put his words into practice once again. He decided to go back to teaching full-time in order to positively influence the lives of students.
“As I was sitting in my office at UofL, I was thinking, I’m talking about it rather than doing it when I could be doing it, so I applied to teach at a high-needs school. The opportunity at Frost came up and I took it,” Davis said.
Nate Meyer, the assistant superintendent for Accelerated Improvement Schools in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), said Frost is fortunate to land an experienced educator like Davis. Frost is one of 34 Accelerated Improvement schools that receive extra support from the district due to low student reading and math proficiency levels.
“You don’t often hear about a former superintendent wanting to return to teaching in a K-12 setting, particularly at a high-needs middle school and yet that is exactly what Dr. Davis is doing and we are incredibly grateful for that,” said Meyer. “We know that teaching quality has a great impact on student achievement and student success and that the impact of experienced teachers is greater for students who are further behind.
“Dr. Davis has and continues to be a servant leader to support all corners of education. We are looking forward to the work he will do for the students and families at Frost and for him to be part of the JCPS family.”
Although he’s nervous about being able to connect with kids now that he’s older, Davis is confident that he can still be the relatable guy he was over 25 years ago.
“It’s not that we just need to teach them math skills, we need to teach them skills to be a good person, how to make a good life, how to do the right things in order to follow your dreams,” he explained.
More than anything, he is excited to see if he can help his students achieve their goals.
“If I can come out after four or five years knowing that some of them, hopefully all of those kids, are going to have a better life than they otherwise would have if I were still at UofL, I can die happy,” Davis said.
Davis earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in middle grades education, and his Rank I certification from Western Kentucky University, superintendent certification from UofL, school financial management certification from the University of Kentucky, and his doctorate in education from UofL.
In his free time, he has been renovating his house in southwest Louisville. He has two sons, both of whom are college students attending Morehead State University and the University of Louisville, respectively. He and his fiancée are planning to get married next year.