The Student News Site of The Potomac School

The Potomac Current

McLean, Virginia
The Student News Site of The Potomac School

The Potomac Current

McLean, Virginia
The Student News Site of The Potomac School

The Potomac Current

McLean, Virginia
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Meet our new Director of Student Life

In an in-depth interview with The Current, Mr. Austin Davis explains where he’s coming from and how he wants to lead
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Mr. Austin Davis, Potomac Upper School’s new Dean of Student Life

As the 2023-24 school year commences, Potomac students look forward to welcoming its new Director of Student Life, Mr. Austin Davis. With the departure of the universally-liked Jake Westermann, who held the position for the past five years, Mr. Davis is well aware that he’s got some big shoes to fill.  As an educator and administrator for over a decade, Mr. Davis brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective that promises to shape the future of student life and foster an inclusive, engaging, and empowering environment for all students.

In late May, The Current met with Mr. Davis by Zoom to learn more about his background, plans, and vision for the upper school, as well as how he would advocate for mental health, community service, and DEI initiatives. Based on our interview, The Current believes he’s up to the challenge and we’re excited on behalf of all Potomac’s US students for the opportunity we’ll have to get to know him.

Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, your hobbies, etc? 

When I was your age, I knew I was going to be a teacher. I’m the oldest, and I have two younger sisters, and our game growing up was “school.” I would force them to pretend to be my students. I would use my allowance money to buy them workbooks. I knew throughout high school and going into college that I wanted to be an educator.

I was an English and math major at Williams College. So I have a background in both the humanities and STEM which has been helpful for me as an educator. But I started my career as an upper school English teacher. That was what I really loved. I love books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and all different kinds of storytelling. And I love being in conversation with people about them. 

I went to a school that was a real pressure cooker, where students were stressed a lot of the time. I remember very vividly math tests where people would walk out of the room crying. And that stuck with me.

I still teach classes. Next year at Potomac, I’ll teach one English class. I’m going to be doing a lot of administrative work, but I love having that sort of placement in the classroom too. I love teaching. I’ve worked in all different kinds of schools. I’ve worked in a big boarding school. I’ve worked in a small school. 

Right now I work at an Episcopal School down in Austin, Texas, so I’m getting ready to move to the DC area. [He’s now completed his move.] I’ve worked in New York City, and a couple of years ago, I moved down to Austin, Texas. What’s cool about positions like the one I’m going to be in at Potomac is getting to see the whole picture of who students are. I really do think of myself as a big person who’s a cheerleader for you. 

Mr. Austin with students at Episcopal School in Austin, Texas.

In terms of hobbies, I’m a big pop culture fiend, and I love the outdoors. I’m excited about that in NOVA. My husband and I go on lots of different hikes together. We have a corgi, who you’ll definitely get to know, and she hopes to be a regular presence on campus.

Mr. Davis with his husband and their corgi, June.

What prompted you to move schools from Texas to DC?

I’ve been in Texas for the last few years and I’ve really enjoyed it. But there’s a couple of big things. One is, we feel very far from our family. Both my husband and I feel very far from our families down here. And both of us have lots of family in the DMV. So we’re excited to move to an area where we feel very connected. And then I really was attracted to Potomac and joining your community. So it was both this sort of personal piece and professional piece of the move. I really am excited to be joining you all next year.

Another goal is thinking about what are the ways to help bring joy and energy to things that are challenging.

Could you tell us about your own high school experience?

My sense is the high school I went to was very similar to Potomac. I’m originally from the New York area. I went to an independent school in New York that was a similar size and was Kindergarten through 12th grade. My graduating class as a senior was similar to your size at Potomac. I think I had both the amazing things about Potomac, and then also the challenging things. I loved my classes, I felt like I was working hard, and I was proud of what I was doing. I really loved my English classes. I also really came to love my math classes. I was a swimmer in high school. I was a big photography nerd. 

And then there were also challenges. I went to a school that was a real pressure cooker, where students were stressed a lot of the time. I remember very vividly math tests where people would walk out of the room crying. And that stuck with me. Those things happened when I was 16 and 17 years old, and I will never forget that. I will never forget the competition. That sense of drive, that sense of feeling like I needed to be doing everything all the time, from what I’ve observed, seems very similar to the mentality at Potomac. 

As such, will promoting mental health be one of your priorities at Potomac?

I think the question is: what does it mean to find balance? And I do think that people feel good when they’ve done a good job on something. It takes hard work to feel mentally healthy. It’s not about having everything easy and simple. You know, I think there’s something to be said for a challenge. But, if you are feeling challenged in everything, nothing can feel good. And what worries me is when the wins that come in high school, the wins of doing well on a test, or, you know, winning an awesome game, or having an amazing performance, don’t feel good. Wins should feel like wins. 

I will certainly have blind spots that I’ll need to call on colleagues of color, female colleagues, non binary colleagues, and other students to help me fill in those things that I’m missing.

What are some of your other goals and priorities as a Director of Student Life? 

For me, it is a significant responsibility to think about how Panther time is going to be spent. How we spend our time together, whether that’s in assemblies, whether it’s in class meetings, is deeply meaningful.

And then I think another goal is thinking about what are the ways to help bring joy and energy to things that are challenging. I definitely am an optimist. I like to have fun. I mean, you’ll see I’m going to be smiling all the time. You’re going to say, “Is Mr. Davis ever having a bad day?” Creating that positive culture feels like an important goal too.

Can you also tell us about some aspects from your past teaching experiences that you want to bring into the Potomac Community?

I’m very involved in our community service program here at my current school. I really do think that community service will be a lens that I will bring to my work as Director of Student Life. Community service is part of my work now, and that will be a part of my work at Potomac.

To me, a well rounded student life program has service in it as a core piece of what you do, even to the mental health front. It can feel good to ask: What can I do to help? Whether it’s younger students at Potomac, whether it’s local people in McLean, or in Arlington or in DC, or wherever it is.

There have been enormous efforts made to work on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Potomac. How would you promote DEIB in your new role? 

We want our school to feel inclusive for all of the students and faculty and staff who are in the building. We want it to feel like your race, your gender, your gender identity, your sexuality, and your physical ability does not matter. Whoever you are, you are welcome. If anything, your identity adds to your B for belonging.

I think the question that you’re sort of asking is, what are the right kinds of activities or conversations that can help call all of us back to that shared belief where we want everyone to feel equal and feel a sense of belonging here. 

I feel ready for these conversations because of my background as a queer person. High school was hard in a lot of ways because of that. And then I also know about all the different privileges that I have as a white, male person. 

You have to have a range of folks in the room, and I will have ways in which I can contribute to those conversations. And then I will certainly have blind spots that I’ll need to call on colleagues of color, female colleagues, non binary colleagues, and other students to help me fill in those things that I’m missing.

How would you address the scenarios where students and faculty are not on the same page about certain issues? 

When it comes to guiding things like either policies or new rules at school, I think of myself as the person who will hold those different things together, and say, here’s where the faculty feels about this and here’s where students fall on this. 

I’m going to spend a lot of time in Crossroads, and because I’m a teacher, in classes with you. I’m going to be wandering around campus and sitting with you at lunch and being with you at assemblies and everything. And so, I do think a lot of my role is just kind of like “collecting” how students feel about any big issue that can come up. 

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About the Contributors
Kate Choi, Editor-in-Chief
Kate Choi is a junior writer for the Current. Prior to her position as Editor-in-Chief, she served as the News Editor. Outside of the newspaper, Kate enjoys baking, running, and spending time with her friends and family.
Aria Patnaik, Student Life Editor
Aria is a junior editor for The Current. In her free time, she enjoys playing lacrosse, making to do lists, and reading.
Aryana Cayton, Staff Writer
Aryana Cayton is a junior writer for the Current. Outside of school she plays tennis, works at an Animal Hospital, and scrolls on Tiktok.