Orchestra director Davis named district’s teacher of the year


Atlanta Public Schools

Orchestra teacher Krissi Davis (left) reacts to being announced the winner of Atlanta Public School's "Excellence In Education" award on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Delta Flight Museum in Hapeville near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Kiki Soto

Orchestra for Krissi Davis is more than just teaching students to be musicians.

“I recognize that orchestra is more to my kids than just playing instruments, and I am making sure I am reaching out to that whole child — academic, social as well as their musical selves,” said Davis, who was named Atlanta Public Schools’ teacher of the year on Oct. 29 in a ceremony at the Delta Flight Museum. Davis received the district’s “Excellence in Teaching” award and will be in the running for Georgia’s teacher of the year.

“I was in the audience wanting her to win so badly; it was like the Oscars. They had the envelope and seeing her up there made me so proud,” Principal Dr. Besty Bockman said. “When she won, I looked at her face, and she was so shocked. It is rare that a music teacher wins this award.”

When Davis came to Grady three years ago, there were 64 members in the orchestra. Now, there are 110 members.

“I am really proud of adding the beginning orchestra,” Davis said. “Even if you have never touched an instrument in high school, there is a place if you want to learn the violin, viola, cello, bass for the first time.” 

Davis, in her fourteenth year as a teacher, is well-deserving of the honor because she reaches students and drives them to excel, Dr. Bockman said.

“It means a lot to me professionally and personally that she won,” Dr. Bockman said. “It is a well-deserved award because of the way she reaches out to kids, the way she manages to bring the best out of the students.” 

Dr. Bockman said she realized the music program at Grady needed to grow, thanks to Davis’ enthusiasm. 

“Her ability to think outside the box and trying new things has made me realize the music program needs to be broadened,” Dr. Bockman added. “A new class coming next year could come as a Hip-Hop literature and culture class that Ms. Davis could co-teach with a literature teacher, previously done in New York.”

In the orchestra room, students excitedly and energetically move around, dancing to the melodies of the violins and violas under the instruction of Davis. 

“Ms. Davis is a teacher that understands her students and has the ability to connect easily and understand all situations,” said senior Remy Pair, an orchestra student. “She pushes her students because she knows everyone’s potential and expects you to push yourself and have hope in yourself. She makes class fun and is loved by everybody, and makes the class an overall great experience.”

Davis is an APS graduate. She went through the Mays High School cluster, playing in the orchestra in elementary school and continuing orchestra throughout high school at Mays. 

“The reason she got teacher of the year was because of her drive and innovation,” said senior Jake Svedberg, an orchestra student. “She makes people move around the class and play in front of the class randomly, trying to eliminate the reliance on the first stand of each section, and so far, three years in, there have been major improvements.” 

Prior to coming to Grady, Davis taught at Sutton Middle School and served as the lead middle school orchestra teacher for APS. Under her direction, the Sutton Middle School Sinfonia Orchestra performed in the National Band and Orchestra Festival in Carnegie Hall in the Spring of 2016.

“She sets very high, yet achievable, goals. This year, she wants us to play Level 6 music, which is the highest for high school, if I’m not mistaken, for LGPE (Large Group Performance Evaluation by the Georgia Music Educators Association),” Svedberg said. “All that said, she is that one teacher who knows when to go hard and make the class play tons, and also she knows when to crack jokes and be more easy-going.” 

Davis is currently working toward a Ph.D. in music education at Georgia State.

“I love that she is a continual learner; that she is working on her Ph.D. and goes to conferences on her own time that makes her improve her skills,” Dr. Bockman said. “She always wants to be better for the kids. The students bring out the best in her, and she brings out the best in them.” 

Orchestras under her direction consistently earned superior ratings and have performed in Washington, D.C.; Orlando, FL; Symphony Hall in Chicago, IL; Carnegie Hall in New York, NY; and most recently in the 2018 ASTA (American Strings Teachers Association) National Orchestra Festival.  

“Their performance at Carnegie got them into ASTA, so two really, really big back-to-back performances within the year,” Davis said. “And just growing the orchestra has been my main focus since I have been here; just basically piggybacking off the foundation the previous director did.” 

Davis also recognized the need for social activities to keep students interested and involved in the orchestra program. Every August the orchestras at Grady and North Atlanta compete in a kickball tournament. Davis is also the sponsor of Grady’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. During the pride parade a couple of weeks ago she was there with GSA in the pouring rain as Dr. Bockman described, “just always doing the unexpected.” 

Davis said she couldn’t explain why she won the award. 

“I don’t know because music is my thing. I stay in the music hall, but evidently, I guess people recognize the positive changes to the orchestra program,” Davis said. “I mean, I am not really a flashy person, and I do not consider myself outgoing.”

Davis notes that some of the success of the orchestra program is due to its proximity to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. 

“The myriad of special opportunities for artists to come [that] we get here at Grady does not happen in other schools,” Davis said. “For instance … some musicians from Turtle Island Quartet (a jazz group formed in San Francisco, CA in 1985) are coming in to do a jazz workshop.”

As for the future, Davis hopes to take the orchestra to the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Festival in the next two years. The clinic, which began in 1946, is the biggest high school orchestra festival.

“I started playing in the orchestra when I was seven. People say this all the time, but I literally can not see myself doing anything other than music and continuing what I have done,” Davis said. “I am just happy to be here.” 

Sara Womack, APS’s performing arts coordinator was also recognized with an award at the ceremony.

“It was a huge night for music and performing arts,” Dr. Bockman said. “They always try and cut back on programs within music and the performing arts. So, it was such a great way to show that APS supports the arts and how important it is to Grady individually.”

Dr. Bockman said teachers like Davis are inspiring.

“The teachers like Ms. Davis are the ones that make me want to do more,” Dr. Bockman said.


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