Marla Davis

Marla Davis

Students across the county can expect a more career-focused school year when they head back to class on Monday.

Macon County Schools has hired Marla Davis as a countywide career coach, a new position intended to give students one-one-one time with a counselor as they plan for college education and careers.

The Macon County Board of Education approved the position in June after input from principals, who said their counselors are typically unable to meet with students outside of classroom settings due to their workload.

"I want to see all of our students become productive citizens," Davis said. "My background is in health care IT (information technology), and I've got about 25 years of experience in it, but I was ready to do something different. I've worked with kids through my church and the Macon County High School sprinters group, and one of the most rewarding things to me was to work with the students on their career paths."

Davis also recently went back to school for a degree in counseling and completed an internship at the MCHS counseling office.

"One of my main goals is to get a baseline knowledge of both the students and their parents," Davis said, noting that she wants to find out how each student can take advantage of early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs). "Doing dual enrollment in classes, getting industry certifications, and going to vocational school will get them EPSOs, and help them become college and career ready. To know how that all ties together is important."

Completing those kinds of opportunities is one of the standards set by the Tennessee Department of Education Ready Graduate indicator, an accountability metric to help students find success after high school.

Davis plans to use those standards as a guideline for her students as well and aims for them to start thinking about the future early. Part of that process will involve students completing career interest surveys (involving students in sixth grade and older) and building individual learning plans (for students in eighth grade and older).

"We want to focus on the students starting earlier than the high school," Davis said. "Getting to experience different careers and technical education at that level is important, because if they understand what their goals are, they can take classes more aligned with them once they get to high school."

Davis' schedule will be split between MCHS (two days per week), Red Boiling Springs School (11/2 days) and Macon County Junior High (11/2 days). Her typical workday is expected to include a variety of activities and will involve collaboration with other counselors and CTE staff.

"It may be helping administer career interest surveys, one-on-one counseling or bringing people in to talk to students," Davis said. "Giving them a piece of paper, they won't always absorb the information. We also want to do networking with community members and alumni, to have people come into the schools and talk to the kids about their work (or vice versa)."

Davis expects to be able to visit the elementary schools two to three times a year as well and will focus on soft skills like communication and eye contact when working with the younger groups.

"When I was interning at MCHS, there was a student who was convinced she wasn't going to go to college," Davis said, noting that students are asked to apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarship and other preparations during their time there. "Each step of the way, she'd say, 'Do I really have to do that,' and I told her, 'Don't close the door, because you might change your mind.' After my internship, I saw her mom, and she told me she'd decided to go to school."

As she prepares for her first year on the job, Davis hopes to influence many more children in the same way. She will be working alongside school counselors, principals and teachers to reach that goal due to some overlap in their responsibilities.

"Sometimes, kids don't understand how important it is to keep their options open, and they don't want to get caught up in all the paperwork," Davis said. "I look forward to working with the different schools, counselors and CTE (career and technical education) staff, and I feel like we can really make a difference."