UW–Madison alumna Andreal Davis has spent more than three decades working in the field of education as a teacher, instructional coach, and leader.
Yet even after dedicating her career to this realm, she couldn’t help but feel there was more that could be done to help eliminate what she describes as “the attitude, opportunity, and achievement gaps” for Black students that are well-documented both around Wisconsin and across the nation.
After serving 26 years in a variety of roles for the Madison Metropolitan School District, Davis started working in 2012 for the Wisconsin Response to Intervention (Rtl) Center, where she became the culturally responsive practices coordinator. While conducting this work, Davis notes how she would often come across “pockets of excellence” — where people are making real strides in bringing forth solutions that can help Black students succeed.
But she struggled in connecting with partners who were all-in on finding ways to bring such efforts to broader audiences in a timely fashion.
“I felt there was a lack of urgency around these education pieces that could help Black students,” says Davis. “So about five years ago I said, ‘You know what, I need to do this myself’ — and I developed a conference.”
Davis took a full year to pull that initial conference together. And Feb. 18-19, she will be leading the fourth annual Black History Education Conference. With a theme of “I Am Somebody,” this year’s event will again provide a venue where current and future educators and stakeholders can share evidence-based policies, practices, programs, and procedures that have proven effective in promoting high levels of achievement for students who are often being underserved in school systems.
Due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the conference will again be held virtually. For the second consecutive year, the School of Education’s Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) is hosting the event and providing logistical support.
“PLACE is honored to support Andreal and this conference because the engagement provides community and expertise to empower African-American students,” says Yorel Lashley, the director of programs for PLACE. “We are delighted to feed a collaboration that propels our mission to serve the community and excited to continue strengthening the conference’s foundation.”
At a time when many across the nation are thinking about ways to end systemic racism, Davis explains that culturally relevant professional development opportunities like this conference are one way to “bring forth solutions that will help us eliminate the stark education gaps that exist.”
Davis notes that the foundation for much of her work was built during her time on the UW–Madison campus — first, en route to earning a BS in elementary education in 1986, and then while pursuing a master’s in curriculum and instruction that she received in 1994.
Davis, who grew up in Milwaukee, says that attending UW–Madison was generally a good experience — but it wasn’t always easy.
“It opened my eyes in both good ways and some not so good ways,” says Davis. “I was in an environment that looked very different from the one I was raised in.”
Davis goes on to highlight the value of “being supported and mentored by a diverse group of profound educators” — noting such luminaries as School of Education faculty members Carl Grant, Ken Zeichner, and Gloria Ladson-Billings, who continues to mentor Davis.
“From her beginnings as a classroom teacher, Andreal Davis recognized the need for teachers to be intentional about meeting the needs of Black students,” says Ladson-Billings, a professor emerita with the School of Education and the immediate past president of the National Academy of Education. “This conference is one of the best manifestations of meeting the need she perceived decades ago.”
Davis in 2004 received both the Lois Gadd Nemec Distinguished Elementary Education Alumni Award from the UW–Madison School of Education, and the prestigious Milken National Educator Award.
“UW–Madison is where I was able to establish a firm foundation to diversify my thinking and educational philosophy,” says Davis. “I’ve carried that with me throughout my educational career, including the work that’s manifesting itself through the conference.”
Davis spent 26 years with the Madison Metropolitan School District, starting as a teacher at the elementary school level in 1986 before taking on roles such as a reading instructor and parent involvement coordinator. She ultimately became the first instructional resource teacher for cultural relevance in the district and wrapped up her career with MMSD as director for equity and family involvement, and as director of African American student achievement.
Davis then spent 2012 to 2021 with the Wisconsin Rtl Center, where she retired last March after serving as statewide culturally responsive practices coordinator. In that role, she led a team of colleagues that trained practitioners around Wisconsin and across the nation using a framework that she co-created called the “Model to Inform Culturally Responsive Practices.” These efforts focused on what it means to be culturally responsive — starting with self and moving that work across an equitable multi-level system of support.
Davis now runs her consulting firm, Cultural Practices that are Relevant, which organizes the Black History Education Conference each year.
“I have known Andreal for many years, witnessed her steadfast commitment to this work and felt its impact,” says PLACE’s Lashley. “We are fortunate and delighted to be growing this partnership.”
Davis says that last year’s conference drew 400 registrants and offered 24 sessions with more than 40 speakers, with some sessions being led by multiple practitioners.
While some of this year’s event remains in the planning stages, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson will deliver the welcome and remarks for Day 2 of the event on Feb. 19.
When asked what she is most excited about heading into this year’s conference, Davis says: “The fact that people keep reaching out and asking, ‘When is the conference?’ People are really excited about what we’re doing and that’s very gratifying.”
“We’ve been able to connect with so many people who have developed proven outcomes around our goals of impacting Black education,” adds Davis. “And it’s great to be able to reconnect with my alma mater and feel so supported and be able to continue a relationship that started so many years ago.”
For updates and complete details, visit the Black History Education Conference web page.