Newly hired Davis High School Principal Will Brown says he wants to make DHS the top school in the region and the nation. But he’s not just focused on test scores and statistics — he’s interested in the school’s atmosphere, too.
“I want this to be a school where people feel good about coming to work and study every day, where teachers feel good about educating our kids, where people are willing to give their best,” Brown said in a wide-ranging interview Friday. He starts his new position Monday.
Brown comes to Davis from the Twin Rivers School District in Sacramento County, where he served for the past three years as principal at Smythe Academy of Arts and Sciences Middle School, a charter school. He also was principal at Foothill High School, a long-established campus in the Foothill Farms area.
He relishes the prospect of his new job, which he regards as “the premiere job in this region” for a principal.
“Davis High has a legacy of excellence that I want to be part of,” he said. “We are on the U.S. News and World Report list of the best high schools. I want to make it the top school in the region and the nation. I want Davis High to be a destination campus for teachers, administrators, families and students.”
He also wants the school to be “a place where the community feels comfortable coming on campus. I want people to feel their input is valued, their wishes are heard. A place where kids are safe and comfortable.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean relaxed. Brown said he also wants DHS to be a place where students “know that the expectations are high, and know why the expectations are high. They should know they are incredible kids who go to an incredible high school, so they can focus and do their best.
“Education is the key to their dreams,” Brown continued. “That crosses all lines — color lines, economic lines, social lines. If you get educated and work hard, you can live your dream.”
Education was key to Brown fulfilling his dream, despite some rocky times in his college days.
Brown grew up in the Del Paso Heights area of Sacramento, and attended Grant High, where he played football.
“I loved high school,” he recalled.
Brown said that as a high school student, he benefited from the attention of “people in that community who love kids, and make sure those kids have special experiences, and make sure they go to college.”
When he graduated from high school, “there were two things I wanted to be (as an adult) — either a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, or a school principal.”
After high school, Brown enrolled at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
“Three semesters in, the scholarship money ran out,” he said. And without the scholarship, “my family couldn’t afford UOP.” So Brown enrolled in Delta College, the two-year community college in Stockton, and started playing football again, then transferred into Fresno State, which is well-known for its football program.
During his college years, Brown also made what he acknowledges were some serious mistakes. In 1994, on the weekend of his 21st birthday, he was arrested on a DUI charge, and he was later sentenced for reckless driving. There were no injuries; Brown has had a clean driving record since that time.
Then in 1996, while still a college student, Brown got involved in a fight. One of the other men involved came into the fight with a stick. As a result, Brown initially was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor after the court concluded Brown had not used the stick.
“Like a lot of young people, I was young and bold and stupid,” Brown said, looking back. “I did things I wasn’t proud of.”
He added, “I realized at the time I wanted to be a teacher, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, ‘you are putting that in jeopardy.’ And that was something that really resonated with me. It was a wake-up call.”
Brown said he responded by focusing “on what I really wanted to be.” He finished up his undergraduate work at Fresno State in 1998 and started work on a teaching credential at National University in Rancho Cordova.
In September 1999, Brown’s supervising probation officer, J. Edward Kindelt, wrote a letter to the Grant school district on Brown’s behalf, saying, “I have worked in the probation field for 34-plus years and cannot recall a person making a more sincere effort to make up for past mistakes. I feel that Mr. Brown can be an asset to young people and unhesitatingly recommend that you hire him as a teacher.”
The letter also notes that while in college, Brown served as a volunteer football coach for Roosevelt High in Fresno, and also was a volunteer with the Tulare County Regional HIV Care Program for two years.
When Brown applied for a California teaching credential in March 2001, he began a process he knew would take some time.
“There is a policy of automatic denial if you don’t have a clean record. And I got that routine denial,” he explained. “Then I went about satisfying the requirements to get a credential.”
The Grant school district took him on as a paraeducator, and as a substitute teacher — under three short-term teaching permits — at Grant High School.
Meantime Brown’s professional goal shifted. Rather than complete his teaching credential, Brown sought a pupil personnel services credential, which he was granted in 2004, and he became a school counselor. He got a certificate of eligibility for an administrative services credential in 2005, a preliminary administrative services credential in 2006 (leading to his assignment as vice principal at Rio Linda High), and a full administrative services credential and pupil personnel services credential in 2009.
During the past year, the Twin Rivers district called on Brown to serve as a coach and mentor for aspiring administrators in the district. Earlier this year, he received a Principal Arts Leadership Award from the Sacramento County Office of Education.
Matt Best, the Davis school district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, screened the applications when the position of Davis High principal opened up earlier this year, and conducted the interview process. Brown emerged as the top candidate.
Best said, “We are aware of Mr. Brown’s Department of Justice report and this information was truthfully provided to the district in accordance with the law through the application process. The district strongly believes that Mr. Brown’s diverse educational experience, excellent employment record, proven track record and impeccable recommendations confirm that Mr. Brown is the right person for the job.”
At the Davis school board’s June 20 meeting, Brown also received praise from longtime school district employee Linda Winter, who takes the minutes at school board meetings. Ordinarily, Winter never speaks at school board meetings, but that evening she made an exception, telling the trustees that several years ago, after she had completed a teaching credential, she was hired as a rookie teacher in the Grant school district — which merged into the Twin Rivers district in 2007 — and worked for three years under Brown.
Winter described Brown as a “wonderful colleague and good friend. … I had the most fabulous experience, seeing an educator in action who connects with children. He is going to be a great addition to our school district. I am so happy that our interview panel and the administration and the school board were insightful enough to hire him.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.