New Cabrillo principal preps for ‘Dream Come True’

John Davis, former assistant principal of Malibu High, said it was a “dream come true” to be named principal of Juan Cabrillo Elementary. Former Principal Pat Cairns retired in June.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

When he was in third grade, just after his family moved to Atlanta from New York, John Davis’ principal scolded him for failing to address a teacher as “ma’am.” He says that incident made him “pretty scared of the principal and embarrassed by him.” A model principal in high school more than compensated, though, and set Davis on the path that would ultimately lead him to the Juan Cabrillo Elementary School’s principal’s office.

“When I was elected student body president, he shook my hand and told me he was proud of me,” Davis said of his high school principal, Mr. Hallford. “Ten years later, he not only remembered me, but helped me find a job as a teacher. You never forget adults who believe in you.”

Now, after two years working as an assistant principal at Malibu High School, Davis will begin his first year as a head principal in September and have the chance to pass on Mr. Hallford’s legacy.

Former Principal Pat Cairns, who headed Juan Cabrillo for six years before retiring in June, said she was “very enthusiastic” about Davis having been selected to take the helm. Cairns participated in the first rounds of the principal selection process. “He was the only person we interviewed who had a vision for the school,” she said. “And we interviewed some very amazing and talented people. But he had a vision.”

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Cairns said Davis “brings a whole group of talents that I don’t even begin to impress.” For example, she said, while she has some knowledge of technology, Davis understands it in depth because he worked in the technology field before becoming a teacher.

Davis took a job in sales and technical support for scientific companies after he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, even though he was drawn to teaching, because he had heard that teachers did not make a lot of money. In fact, his father had been a professor, but quit academia and joined the FBI when he realized his salary would not support Davis and his six brothers and sisters.

“I was never unhappier in my life,” Davis said of his six years working with technology. “The only part of these jobs that I enjoyed was when I was able to teach someone something.”

He quit the technology work and began teaching in inner city Atlanta. The first words from one of his students were, “We’re gonna run you off, Mr. Davis.”

But Davis flourished in the hard but gratifying job, and returned to school at night for his master’s in science education at Georgia State University.

He taught science for 16 years in Atlanta, three in high school and 13 at a middle school that was consistently awarded “Best School in the State of Georgia,” teaching everything from courses for gifted students to Saturday school for underprivileged students.

Davis became a National Board Certified teacher and earned a specialist degree in teaching from Emory University in 2000, then got an administrator’s credential from the State University of West Georgia in 2002.

In 2002, he got a chance to cross into administration when he was hired as assistant principal at Malibu High. After two years there, he said, he “had his heart set” on becoming a head principal. “I consider the opportunity to work at Cabrillo a dream come true,” he said.

Davis has begun to work with parents and teachers, preparing himself to best meet whatever challenges may arise at Cabrillo.

Special education has been a district-wide issue, as the district’s programs have failed to meet government regulations. Davis said he has communicated with some parents of children in Cabrillo’s special education classes, and although they have expressed satisfaction with the program, he will stay in contact with them to “make sure our program is serving their child’s needs.”

Neda Kramer, an intern psychologist at Malibu High, said Davis worked very successfully with students with special needs at Malibu High. “There were a lot of discipline problems there and he’s just got this very well-mannered nature about him, where he just knows how to deal with the most difficult problems in a calm way,” she said.

“He was a great communicator,” said Malibu High teacher Julie Erb. She said Davis learned all the students’ names and listened to everyone’s opinions. “He made quite an impact in just the two years he was with us,” she said.

With regard to drugs and alcohol, issues that have intensified in Malibu recently, Davis said, “I believe older elementary school children need a certain amount of education in these areas; however, before making any comments on this, I will need to find out what is being taught and what teachers, parents, and experts in these areas recommend. These are difficult, complex issues and we as a community must find the answers together.”

Davis said his goal is “to continue Pat Cairns’ incredible work to create a climate of inclusion and high expectations at Juan Cabrillo. I want to continue her work in helping teachers do what they do best-teaching all children with loving care.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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