Former Pickaway-Ross teacher returns as new superintendent to lead the school

Toria Barnhart
Chillicothe Gazette

ROSS COUNTY — More than 30 years ago, Jonathan Davis attended preschool at Pickaway-Ross Career and Technology Center and made his first connection to the institution.

Today, he's back in the halls, only this time it's to lead.

Jonathan Davis attended preschool at Pickaway-Ross Career and Technology Center more than 30 years ago and in 2004, he landed his first teaching job there.

This year, Davis will be leading the school.

Following the retirement of long-serving Pickaway-Ross Superintendent Dennis Franks, Davis transitioned from his role as head of Circleville City Schools to take over the position at the career tech school. The home of his first teaching job, Davis is excited to return and continue the legacy set forth by his predecessor.

"Coming back is like a homecoming of sorts," he said. "For me, it means I'm able to hit the ground running."

Born and raised in Kingston, Davis graduated from Zane Trace High School in 1999. He had a few great teachers that inspired him to pursue the same career path so he went on to attend Ohio University Chillicothe and then Shawnee State.

In college, Davis met his wife Kristen, and in 2004 he accepted his first job at Pickaway-Ross teaching social studies. Davis would later go on to earn a graduate degree from Ohio University and have two children, Claire and Graham.

He worked in the career tech for a few years but left to start his own business — an investment firm. Though the job was different, Davis was still connected to education through the information he was supplying to clients.

Later, Davis became a soccer coach, something that he always wanted to do, and suddenly another missing piece was found.

He connected with the players and realized he wanted to work with kids again. So Davis began leading an after-school program in Circleville and found himself inside an academic institution once more.

Ten years ago, Davis was promoted to his first administrative role when he became the assistant principal of Circleville High School. In 2013, he became the district's assistant superintendent before accepting the lead role three years later. Davis served as superintendent from 2016 until the end of the 2021 school year before transitioning to Pickaway-Ross full-time in August.

New Pickaway-Ross Career and Technology Center Superintendent Jonathan Davis greets juniors as they arrive for their first day of school on Aug. 17, 2021.

From his tenure at the public school, Davis learned that the culture created in a district is imperative for its success. And by providing a fulfilling environment for students, educators will see the academic outcomes they're striving for. This included addressing the social, emotional and overall wellness of students.

"We were able to create community relationships that I feel like stimulated the academic supports that students needed," he said. "If they're not fed, if they don't feel safe... if we don't address these issues then it's going to be harder to teach."

With 2,300 students this year, 10 districts represented, several satellite programs around Pickaway and Ross Counties, the adult education program and many community partners, Davis added that he has the same opportunity to continue that at Pickaway-Ross but on a larger scale. 

He believes that the whole student must be the center of focus and that by addressing an individuals' foundational needs they can then focus on things like education which help them "bloom." Davis said that in modern times, a school serves as the community center and that's part of the reason they hired an additional mental health counselor for this year as well as potential partnerships with Adena Health System for tele- or mobile health services.

It's also why looking ahead, he doesn't have any plans for change during his first year. Instead, he'll focus on looking for new opportunities for the district and the chance to expose even more students to the power of a career tech education.

Jonathan Davis, back left, looks on with a smile during the Ross County Fair tractor pull. Davis was in charge of keeping the list of competitors and recording their distances. He was also calling the next child to pull and said he felt proud to represent the school.

"This isn't a case of something being broken. Things are thriving," Davis said. "It started well ahead of me and that's what I plan to continue."

In the changing of roles, Davis said the job is pretty similar except he's working with older students and those in the district's satellite schools. The biggest change will be with the inclusion of adult education in his duties and acquiring funding, but Davis is looking forward to the challenge.

Yet his number one goal for his first year is to listen to stakeholders, staff, and county superintendents to learn where he can be of value. He also hopes to address the community's labor shortage. Though they're placing 92% of students on jobs, Davis said businesses still need help.

Taking what he learns from those conversations, he plans to see the growth opportunities and develop a plan rooted in career tech education. 

So far it's been a great start to the year with a notable increase to the junior class. Davis and the rest of the Pickaway-Ross staff are looking forward to what's to come — including the return of the district's beloved Battle of the Bands tradition on Sept. 10.

Have a story tip or comment? Contact Toria at tbarnhart@gannett.com or 740-349-1106. Follow her on Twitter @ToriaBarnhart or at facebook.com/ToriaBarnhartNews.