Principal says goodbye to students after 27 years at local high school

PADUCAH — It’s the end of an era in education. Art Davis has been working at Paducah Tilghman High School for 27 years. Many of you know him. He’s spent 16 years as principal, touching thousands of lives along the way.

Now, he’s retiring.

Davis is a principal of the people. You have to contact him by Walkie-Talkie, because he is always moving.

“It’s a big school. There’s a lot of hallways,” Davis says. He checks on his students. He checks on his staff.

“If I need someone to boost my ego, I come in here,” Davis says as he walks into the cafeteria.

“I call him sharp dressed man,” says Lisa Hobb, who works in the cafeteria.

“I’m trying not to cry. I’m going to miss him,” says fellow staff member Lisa Fox, who also works in the cafeteria. “He’s been a real awesome leader and a good friend.”

Davis even hired some of his former students as teachers — including Leo McKinley, who was a senior in high school when Davis started as principal.

“I appreciate him so much. It’s going to be a big loss for our school,” McKinley says. “A lot of what he taught us will carry on, but it won’t be the same without him being here.”

Davis has been wandering the halls for 27 years. It’s his leadership style. For 16 of those years, he’s made a space for himself in the principal’s office.

After more than a decade, his office is being packed up. But it’s just a place to hold his things. The hallways were his real office.

“I stay in the building. I’m not an in office-type principal,” Davis says.

After 27 years, he says his career wasn’t the path he expected. “It wasn’t what I was looking for. It just kind of accidentally happened. I had a teaching degree and I needed a job, so I started teaching. It wasn’t long until I realized I really like this,” Davis says. “I feel like it’s a gift maybe.”

People say his gift is connecting with others. “Just the way he interacts with those kids — they’re his kids,” Fox says.

Davis says the school made him want to be better. “You never know who you touch or who you are helping when you are in this building.,” he says. “They may not like me, but they respect me.”

It’s the kind of tough love that shapes a young mind.

He may be retiring, but he is not getting out of education altogether. Davis is going to be the assistant principal at Metropolis Elementary School.

The next principal of Paducah Tilghman is current dean of students Allison Stieg.