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After winning an upset election on a platform of reform, Elizabeth “Liz” Davis was sworn into office August 1 as President of the Washington Teachers Union. In her successful campaign, Davis promised to…
Davis, an award-winning educator, has taught in DC Public Schools for 41 years, most recently as an Information Technology teacher at Phelps High School. After being recruited to teach drafting at Jefferson Junior High School in 1972 by the superintendent who was impressed by a course she designed, the school’s principal tried to bar her from the job because she was female. Fighting for her right to teach – and her female students’ right to take classes – in a male dominated vocational education field set the tone for a life as an activist.
During decades when many DCPS facilities were literally falling down around students and staff, Davis became known as a teacher who was unafraid to stand up to unsafe conditions, from water contaminated with unsafe levels of lead to tar fumes that were sickening students and teachers forced to stay in a school with a collapsed roof.
While working at Sousa Middle School, a National Historic Landmark associated with the struggle to desegregate schools in the nation's capitol, DCPS put forth plans to close the school. She inspired her students to create their own design for a new school building and organize their parents, community, and political allies to save their school. After helping students and teachers lobby city officials to pass then-Mayor Fenty’s school modernization bill, speak out for much-needed resources like adequate books in their library, and even taking her class to Capitol Hill to speak before the Congressional Black Caucus, DCPS officials changed course, invested in modernizing the school, and even integrated student ideas into their renovation plans. A donor funded much-needed books for the school library.
When DC Voice was trying to understand the concerns of the community on school issues, the organization asked Davis to convene roundtables with parents and teachers. She has also been active in Empower DC, Save Our Schools, and the Ward 5 Education Council as well as the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Women Educators and the National Commission on Writing.
After watching strong students struggling to write, Davis developed a keen interest in nurturing literacy and writing skills among the youth she taught. She became a teacher consultant to the DC Area Writing Project in 1995, and also has been active in the Telling Stories Project of Teaching for Change.
In 2008, Davis co-authored an op-ed “Bargaining for Better Teaching” in The Washington Post about the failure of the WTU to bring good ideas to the bargaining table with Michelle Rhee on how to support and improve teaching and the quality of education in DCPS. Her union activism has included many years as a Building Representative for the WTU and service on the union’s contract negotiating team in 2007-2008. Her tenure in nine different DC public schools included a stint working alongside Jason Kamras, DCPS’s Chief of Human Capital.
Davis has been honored by DCPS as a highly effective teacher, and awards over her long career have included the MetLife Foundation Ambassador in Education Award and the Masonic Scottish Rites Excellence in Teaching Award. She is a graduate of DC’s Eastern High School and holds a BS in Technology Education from American University and a MA in Educational Administration.