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Davidson returns to Fort Dodge

Middle school job is a homecoming for principal

-Submitted photo
Fort Dodge Middle School Principal Aaron Davidson talks with students and parents on the first day of school on Aug. 27, 2019.

Aaron Davidson is right where he wants to be.

Born and raised in Fort Dodge, Davidson made his return to the Fort Dodge Community School District this year, and he couldn’t be happier with the opportunity to return home.

“I am a Fort Dodge kid,” said the 1995 St. Edmond High School graduate. “I take it personal when people talk bad about Fort Dodge. I’m not taking for granted the opportunity I have.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do each day. It’s a great big task, but I have high expectations and I relish the opportunity.”

Davidson taught in the FDCS district for nine years before heading to Pomeroy-Palmer for three years as a principal. In 2012, Davidson moved his family to Pocahontas where he became the elementary principal for the Pocahontas Area Community School District for seven years.

-Submitted photo
Fort Dodge Middle School Principal Aaron Davidson hands a student’s belongings to them after administrators and teachers cleaned out lockers following the cancelation of the remainder of the school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when Fort Dodge Middle School Principal Ryan Flaherty went to become the principal at Duncombe Elementary School, the chance to return home was perfect for Davidson.

“Fort Dodge is home to Krystal (wife) and I,” Davidson said. “I never saw myself leaving Fort Dodge, but life threw us a curveball and we went a different direction. I didn’t know if the opportunity would arise, but I knew it needed to be the right fit. It was a big life decision. Krystal and I and Jace, Christian and Taytum were in Pocahontas for a long time. It’s awesome to be back and it couldn’t be a better situation for me and my family.

“Being the building principal at Fort Dodge Middle School is my dream job. I want FDMS to be something the community and staff can be proud of and I want it to be the best middle school in the state.”

Heading into his first year, Davidson knew replacing Flaherty and Ed Birnbaum (principal before Flaherty) was going to be a tough task.

“Each person has their own vision and filling the shoes of Ed and Ryan is tough,” Davidson said. “The first thing I wanted to do was talk to all of the staff and share my vision. I wanted to let them know I was going to be here for them and that I plan on staying. I want to be here for 25 years.

“Coming in, there really wasn’t anything that surprised me. I had a great support staff with Shawn Bennett, Jason Lampe and Bruce Hartley who have been in the district for a long time. A lot of people that know the ins and outs. Dr. Kirsten Doebel has been huge. She has been a great support system and has my back.”

From the start, Davidson was eager to put his vision in place.

“I wanted to establish trust. Even before I started I had conversations with all of the staff to try and connect with them. As my vision, I knew we needed to have a gameplan. So we talked about changes that needed to be made and get their unique perspective.

“We needed to have those conversations and that helped get the ball rolling in the right direction. We have a lot of passionate teachers in the middle school that also take it personally when they hear negative things. When you have over 1,100 students and 125 adults in your system, it’s tough to get everything right. It’s simple – we want the teachers to teach and the students to learn.”

Building those early bonds and getting everyone on the right page was something that Davidson believes contributed to the success this year in the building.

“Communication is key. We were able to be proactive and not reactive,” Davidson said. “I am a goal-oriented person. My goal going in was I wanted to look at our system and make changes to help support our students and help support our staff and make sure everyone feels safe.

“We had to make some adjustments and I knew it would take some work. I think we made those steps and the staff felt good about it. We have a long way to go, but there were a lot of positives with adults building relationships with kids.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of unknowns for the district, but Davidson knew the district had to be there for students, staff and parents.

“There is nothing in the administration handbook on how to deal with a pandemic,” Davidson said. “Kirsten Doebel and (Superintendent) Jesse Ulrich have done a ton of incredible things dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration had to make some tough decisions, but the most important thing was we wanted the kids to know they were being supported. During school they spend eight hours a day, five days a week with school staff, so that’s a lot of positive interaction with their peers.

“Mental health with staff and parents is also a big thing. We needed a way to support everyone. We never said mandatory and we never wanted to say optional. We just wanted to have a presence.”

It’s been a school year that nobody could have expected, and after starting his tenure, Davidson reflected on how he got started and where he wants to go.

“Gary Reiners gave me an opportunity when I first started at Phillips Middle School and I started envisioning going down the administration road,” Davidson said. “I love teaching and I love coaching and being a building principal is the same work. You have to maximize strengths and weaknesses and turn those strengths into great impacts.

“We want everyone to be proud of the Fort Dodge Middle School and view it as a beautiful place. We have passionate teachers doing positive things in our building.”

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