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Get to Know Berkley School District Superintendent Dennis McDavid

"I feel lucky to be here. It's a great place. We've got great community support, we've got great staff and we've got great kids," says the aspiring author and fan of Southern literature, who lives in Auburn Hills with his wife and two dogs.

Follow your passions, work hard and learn from your mistakes are life lessons Superintendent Dennis McDavid will apply in the during the 2012-2013 school year.

McDavid, who replaced in March, will begin his first full year as head of the district when school starts Sept. 4.

A passion for helping kids

If you detect a bit of Southern twang in the superintendent's speech, your ears haven't deceived you: The Mississippi-born McDavid moved at age 4 to Indiana, where he grew up one of 13 kids.

Inspired by his admiration for Southern authors, McDavid majored in English at Louisiana State University, with a minor in German and a concentration in creative writing.

"When I graduated (in 1986), I fumbled around for a while, as many kids do," before finding a job with GMAC, he said.

McDavid said he put his liberal arts education to use in the business world by analyzing and synthesizing information.

"Do what you want to do, study what you're interested in and you'll figure it out," McDavid said. "Life's too short to do what other people want you to do."

McDavid served in administrative and management roles for approximately 15 years with General Motors, moving from Indiana to Wisconsin to Illinois, and being selected as one of four employees nationwide to participate in a pilot program to determine how to improve interactions between GMAC and Chevrolet.

The superintendent said he ended the business portion of career working with OnStar in Detroit, where he was hired to recruit, train and manage field staff from throughout the United States and Canada.

"My last job at OnStar was a great job," said McDavid, who was tasked with selling to European manufacturers and regularly flew overseas to court executives with Audi, Volkswagen, Ferrari and Saab.

But, despite his jet-setting lifestyle and lucrative compensation package, McDavid was unsatisfied.

"My wife knew I wasn't happy doing it and said, 'Why don't you find another job?' " he said. "I kept wondering how my work was making an impact on the world, how it was helping people beyond the bottom line."

So, when General Motors transferred McDavid's wife Carol to Arizona – "I married over my head," the affable McDavid quipped – he took the opportunity to quit his job and enroll at Arizona State University, where he earned his teaching certificate.

Another transfer brought the couple back to Metro Detroit, where McDavid earned his master's degree in educational leadership from Oakland University in Rochester and, in 2005, landed a position teaching English in the Berkley School District.

"While teaching in the BHS English Department, Mr. McDavid was recognized as 'Teacher of the Year' by the PTSA, and was Berkley's nominee to the Oakland County 'Teacher of the Year' program," according to his page on the district's website.

He was promoted to BHS principal in 2007 and to director of schools and human resources for the Berkley School District in 2009.

"His passion for helping kids showed in his effort to push them to be their very best," English teacher Paul Cierpial said in March after McDavid's appointment as superintendent was approved. "I'm happy for him, but I'm at least as happy for us; he has the ability to get the most from the team he has assembled."

'I feel lucky to be here'

That ability to get the most from his team is something that's close to McDavid's heart.

"The most important thing in business and education is making sure you've got the right people in the right positions," he said. "Organizations suffer when you hire people who aren't up to par, aren't striving to be great.

"If you put a great teacher in every classroom, now how much further ahead are you?" McDavid said. "It's not just the teachers, it's the para-educators, the custodians, the administrators. Once you've got them in, you've got to develop them and put them in a position to succeed.

"That's a large part of what I see as the superintendent's job," he said. "Sometimes, it's kind of tough to do with the budget constraints, but it's the goal."

McDavid's said his goals also include:

  • Preparing for the new Common Core State Standards during the next couple years.
  • Attracting qualified people to the field of education and paying them what they deserve.
  • Building positive relationships with Berkley, Huntington Woods and north Oak Park.
  • Creating new opportunities for students to follow their passions.

"I'm optimistic that if anyone can do this, we can do it here in Berkley," he said. "I feel lucky to be here. It's a great place. We've got great community support, we've got great staff and we've got great kids.

"Having said that, it can be a little overwhelming sometimes," McDavid chuckled. "Sometimes people expect you to know everything about everything. Give me some time."

Learning from mistakes

In his spare time, McDavid, who lives with his wife and their two dogs in Auburn Hills, is an avid reader and writer and enjoys golfing.

"The best book I've ever read was All the King's Men," by Southern author Robert Penn Warren, he said. "It's really a fascinating political thriller, but also a personal narrative."

McDavid also is working on a novel of his own, which he says is "in about the tenth draft." He joked that whenever he sees a former student, they ask how his book is progressing and he is forced to admit it's still a work in progress.

Perhaps that process of drafting and redrafting to get the story just right has bled over into his role as superintendent.

"We acknowledge we're going to make mistakes," McDavid said. "But, you learn from that and you get better."

Claire Charlton August 28, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Thanks for this interesting profile, Leslie. I'm excited for this school year to begin. I have a lot of confidence in Mr. McDavid.
Leslie Ellis September 12, 2012 at 03:49 PM
My pleasure, Claire! Thanks for reading!

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