Heading off to Columbia College for an education degree is what was expected of "good little Methodist girls" in the late 1960s. And that is exactly what retiring Mount Pleasant Academy (MPA) principal Jane Davis did. It was all thanks to her Latin teacher that she decided early on to go into education. That decision led to a 49-year career in education. "She was just so good," Davis said. "She made everyone feel good and gave them the confidence to achieve."
Davis is most known for her time at MPA, but she began her career as the librarian at St. Paul's High School in Hollywood because it was halfway between her hometown of Walterboro and Charleston. She could not quite afford to live in Charleston yet.
It was a time of school consolidation and lots of changes were coming down the pipe. After two years she decided she wanted to teach and with her Elementary Certification in hand, she headed to Midland Park Elementary School for 11 years and eventually at Alice Birney Middle School. The assistant principal there encouraged Davis to go into administration. She had already earned her Masters in Elementary Education so off she went to The Citadel for a Masters in Administration.
Davis was fortunate enough to participate in a Charleston County School District Internship Program for administrators as well as attend the Administrators Assessment Center in Columbia to round out her training. Davis said she was fortunate because at that time, under District Superintendent Ron McWhirt, the Site Based Management and Accountability was successfully implemented.
Davis was placed at Jennie Moore Elementary School from 1985 to 1987, which was working toward becoming a magnet school and integrating the student population.
Davis became principal of MPA right before Hurricane Hugo. Nothing could have prepared her for seeing all of the academic trailers washed away into the Intracoastal Waterway and the flooding in the main building. But like everybody else, the school bounced back and reopened for business.
Davis has seen a lot of things change in her career. In 1988, the objectives were one page long. Today, it is an entire book. That same year was the start of state testing and accountability via the PACT test, which was a low-level criterion reference recall test. "We were leaders in teaching not 'to the test', but what needed to be learned," Davis said. She said scores improved and re-testing became the norm so students could actually learn the material. "It is about far more than just imparting knowledge. Teachers have a responsibility to make sure the students learn so they can become successful."
In the early 1980s, MPA was considered just an average school. Great improvement came later that decade under the leadership of Principal Marilyn Mentavlos. Davis describes her good friend as a principal who knew how to hire good teachers.
When Davis took the reigns she continued that to best serve the 300-student population.
It was a struggle back then. The school had no money and no credit. They had to pay the soda vendor in cash and the PTA had to raise all the money to place window AC units in each classroom.
Davis had to save for quite some time to purchase a working copier.
The school was made up of a cross-section of every socio-economic background. For a long time, many parents that lived in the Old Village neighborhood were sending their kids to private school. But as test score improvement became evident, the town began to grow with the school and with the help of incredible parent involvement, MPA quickly became a world-class school.
By the time the school was temporarily moved to Wando South, so the new facility could be constructed, the student body had grown to 475 students.
In 2009, the school's 200th birthday, MPA (the oldest continually operating school in South Carolina) opened their doors to the new building (built for 500 students). Eight years later, the enrollment has grown to 580 students and a science lab had to be retrofitted as a traditional classroom. Davis said there is absolutely no more land left to add trailers.
"In years past, one-third of the kids petitioned to come because the school was so well thought of," Davis said. "But because we are now so crowded there are no transfer approvals for MPA."
Davis is still trying to wrap her mind around retirement. Sometimes it does not seem real. She is most sad to leave the children. "It keeps you young," Davis said. "You're still celebrating Valentines Day and you get to see their excitement for learning and how much they love you and accept you. This is one of the best schools in Charleston County and the kids want it to stay that way."
Her longtime secretary Bobby Burnette agreed not to retire at the same time to ensure a smooth transition. "For what I've accomplished, she gets as much credit as anyone else," Davis said.
And after the retirement parties and excitement died down, Davis was honored yet again with a House Resolution for her service to education.
In part it reads, "It is altogether fitting and proper that the members of the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina should pause in their deliberations to express their gratitude to Jane McGee S. Davis for her significant contributions to the education of the children of Mount Pleasant..."
Davis may consult with the district in a leadership role in the near future. But in the meantime, she says she is proud that herself and colleagues have continuously met the goal of having the highest academic achievement scores in the county and perhaps the state, while offering a nurturing and loving environment.