Profile: Blondean Y. Davis
Staying Visible as 'Head of the Family'
BY JULI DOSHAN/School Administrator, September 2018
WHEN BLONDEAN DAVIS first came to Matteson School District 162 in Richton Park, Ill., after more than 30 years in Chicago Public Schools, the school board asked her if it was possible to create a system strong enough to stabilize the surrounding neighborhood. She said no.
Fast forward 16 years to today, when the number of Matteson students meeting or exceeding state learning standards has jumped from 55 percent to 82 percent. Despite the improvement, Davis hasn’t stopped pushing.
“This may be strange to say, but it’s like there is no end, so the accomplishment is the constant strive for improvement,” says Yvonne Williams, who has worked with Davis in both Matteson and Chicago as a special education officer. “Our potential is always greater than what we are, so her push for excellence is, in my mind, what kind of defines her and separates her from other leaders that I’ve worked with.”
Davis identified a need for a high school in the district so she succeeded in opening a public charter school, Southland College Prep High School, in 2010. It boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate during the past five years. She has since changed her tune about whether the district can influence its community.
“What has happened is the success of children who live right here in the same community has brought a sense of well-being and stability that I totally did not anticipate,” says Davis, an AASA member since 2007 who was honored last February with the association’s Women in School Leadership Award. “Goals and objectives are one thing. Actually doing this and finding the staff that’s strong enough to do this, that’s a whole other thing.”
Assembling the right team of staffers has been instrumental to Davis’s success. She recruited a college counselor to come to Southland Prep, not only to prepare children for competitive colleges but also to help attract enough merit-based financial aid to fund 80 percent of each student’s college expenses. So far, the cumulative total is close to $102 million in scholarships.
“We try to make sure the community understands that taking out college loans, in the end, is going to result in something negative, not only for the child, but for the family,” Davis says.
And family matters a lot to Davis. She always refers to the school community at Matteson as “the family” and has centered her career around family values.
“We emphasized the concept of family because everyone understands it. It’s not something that sounds so obtuse,” she says. “In a family, people are kind to each other; in a family, no one is physical; in a family, there’s no bullying; in a family, people look after each other. It’s the nucleus of how everyone interacts.”
Davis says she can walk through the halls of the district’s schools, located about 30 miles southwest of Chicago, at any given time (“The head of the family has to be visible,” she contends) and hear that students and staff have bought into the concept of family.
Family also bears on Davis’s career choice. She began “teaching” her dolls on the couch as a small girl in Chicago because she was surrounded by educators and thought teaching is what everyone did.
Even more influential than the various aunts and uncles who were educators was Davis’s mother, who was a teacher and what she calls “a pusher in terms of education.”
“She shared that teaching was the perfect profession for me because this is the world I was most comfortable in,” Davis says. “I’m a manifestation of what she thought I should be and the dreams that she had.”
JULI DOSHAN is senior editorial assistant at School Administrator.
BIO STATS: BLONDEAN DAVIS
superintendent and CEO, Matteson School District/Southland College Preparatory Charter High School, Richton Park, Ill.
chief of schools and regions, Chicago Public Schools
Greatest influences on career:
One person has been my guiding light — my mother, who worked six days a week to put me through college. I am the manifestation of my mother’s dreams.
Best professional day:
Aug. 16, 2010, the day that I looked into the faces of 122 children who came into my middle school because we did not have a building — and it signaled the first day of Southland College Prep.
Books at bedside: 11th Hour
by James Patterson; Buckingham Palace Gardens
by Anne Perry; and the Bible
Why I’m an AASA member:
I can’t envision not being an integral part of an organization that represents some of the strongest, most dedicated administrators in the U.S.