Davis takes over from retiring Amy Krause for the 2014-15 school year as Georgia implements the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, or Georgia Milestones for short. The test was announced last week by the Georgia Department of Education and it replaces both the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and the End of Course Tests previously given to Georgia students.
One of Davis’ top jobs this year will be implementing the new test.
“We have anticipated a transition in the state’s assessment system for some time now, and we know there is the opportunity to assess our students at a more rigorous level,” she said. “We really have been preparing over time by increasing our instructional practices and by using classroom assessments that are much more rigorous than the former state tests were.”
Davis is part of Cobb Schools Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s seven-member cabinet, and served a similar role during an eight-year stint in Gwinnett County. This is her second year in Cobb. Last year, she served as assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The new test system aligns with Common Core education standards adopted by 45 states and, according to the state, will be tougher than the tests it replaces.
Davis said her goal is to go above and beyond the Common Core standards.
“There is simply nothing more important than what our community decides teachers will teach and children will learn,” she said. “Common Core serves as the foundation for the content standards in Cobb. Our teachers are doing so much more than simply the Common Core, and they are providing 21st-century learning experiences for kids that are above and beyond what the Common Core would expect.”
A major focus for Ragsdale and his cabinet this year will be data. Greg Ewing, the school system’s new chief accountability and research officer, will analyze data from standardized tests and work closely with Davis to see how that data can be used more effectively in the classroom.
“We will have a heavy emphasis on learning engagement and what the learner today needs to successfully and effectively succeed in the classroom,” Davis said. “We also will have an emphasis in our teaching and learning division on how we provide professional development resources for the 21st-century educator.”
Ragsdale named Davis to the position May 29, citing her experience and leadership capabilities.
“She’s somewhat new to the district, but she’s also returning to the district,” Ragsdale said. “She was a chemistry and physics teacher at Walton. She’s worked with the U.S. Department of Education and most recently with the Gwinnett County School District.”
Davis said there is still a lot to learn about the state assessments because not all of the details have been released yet, but she plans to set tangible improvement goals in the next several weeks.
Though Davis was born and raised in New Jersey, she taught in Fairfax County, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., early in her career. While in the area, she took an interest in politics and later worked on the staff of then- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and former President George W. Bush.
For Santorum, she was an education policy adviser, and for Bush, she was deputy director of a program called the Teacher to Teacher initiative. In between those two, she taught physical science at Walton High School.
Anticipating the end of the Bush presidency, Davis moved to Gwinnett County schools late in the last decade and has lived and worked in metro Atlanta since.
Davis began by volunteering in D.C. while she was a teacher, and said the chance to work for Santorum’s Washington office was a great experience.
“In D.C., I was so inspired to be surrounded by incredibly intelligent people who were passionate about their country,” she said. “I was inspired by the service they believe they can provide to our country. It’s so humbling and the people there are consummate professionals. They are very well-educated, admirable people.”
Ragsdale touted Davis’ diverse background both in Washington and in local school systems.
“She understands how we teach in Cobb,” Ragsdale said. “She also brings experience coming from a large district such as Gwinnett. She was on the superintendent’s cabinet there. She knows how academics need to function in a large district. She’s had enough experience at the central office level to understand how we function as a school district, but also brings a fresh set of eyes.”
While some might malign the political atmosphere in Washington, Davis said her experience there will help her cut through any bureaucratic red tape.
“I do think having a laser focus on what is happening in the classroom makes it important to understand all of these other external influencing forces,” she said. “I’m committed to minimizing them as distractions and maximizing the attention to learning.”
Davis will make $125,000 next school year. Krause, who held the title previously, made $127,471 in 2013.
The Mary Elizabeth Davis file
• Name: Mary Elizabeth Davis
• Family: Husband Paul Davis, credit consultant, Wells Fargo. Daughter Attlie Davis, 10 months.
• Born in: Marlton, New Jersey
• Residence: Mableton
• Career stops: Fairfax County, Virginia, teacher; U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s education policy adviser; Walton High School, physical science and chemistry teacher; President George W. Bush’s deputy director of the Teacher to Teacher initiative; Gwinnett County Public Schools, executive director for curriculum and instruction; Cobb County School District, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment.
• Number of years in education: 15
• Education: Messiah College (Harrisburg, Pa.) B.S. in Chemistry, certification in Secondary Education; Georgia State University, Master of Public Administration, Education Specialist, Ph.D. in Educational Policy (currently enrolled).
• Church: Vinings Lake Church
• Hobbies: Running, cooking, time with family.
• Influences: My faith and my husband. Also my parents, Ralph and Bernadette Atwell, and family.
• Salary: $125,000