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A Commanding Presence

story by Lydia Thompson

It doesn't take long for visitors to Paducah Tilghman High School to notice Principal Art Davis roaming the campus. His booming laugh echoes through the halls, and he is arguably the best-dressed person in the school. Art, 56, has been an educator for 31 years, 25 of which he has spent at Paducah Tilghman. All those years at the same school have allowed him to help multiple generations of students, as well as train most of the school administrators in the area, earning him the nickname "the Godfather." But his impact is not limited to the school system. He knows most members of the community by name. "Sometimes you find a place that fits you," Art says of Paducah. "I understand the community, and I think the community understood me." Art never thought he would become an educator. He spent his high school years in Hopkinsville and enlisted in the Army while at Murray State University, hoping to eventually move his wife and children to Atlanta. But when his Reserve unit was assigned to Paducah, he found a job as the band director at Massac County High School in nearby Metropolis, Ill. "I didn't think I would ever walk back into a school ... I actually didn't like [high school]," he says. "The first day that I hit the classroom I knew I was onto something, and I knew that this was going to be my life." Though he eventually gave up a 15-year career in the active Reserves to pursue an administrative position at Paducah Tilghman, Art's military background continues to influence his approach to education. He is strict with students, and he prioritizes security and discipline on his campus. "Mr. Davis... appears to be really tough and macho, but he's really soft," says Heather Hamilton, the business manager at Paducah Tilghman. "He's got a big heart, but he doesn't show it... he doesn't let anybody see that." Among those closest to his heart are the members of his family. He and his wife have four children and seven grandchildren, though only his son, Brandon, and his granddaughter, Maddie, live in Paducah. Every Friday, Art meets Brandon for lunch, and he sometimes has lunch with Maddie at the nearby elementary school. His family's happiness is "my major, No. 1 concern," he says. Several members of his family passed through Paducah Tilghman. His nephew, who graduates next year, will likely be the last under his leadership. Art plans to retire once his nephew crosses the stage. "You don't want to outstay your time," he says. But his career as an educator is not quite over. Art plans to continue teaching elsewhere in the community.

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Art tries to know every student by name. While making his rounds checking in on every classroom, he speaks with Brayon Martin.

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When he puts on his apron, embroidered with the words "Kernel Davis," students know they are in for a treat. He sets up his popcorn machine in the cafeteria and serves students during lunch. "I love my students, and I think my students love me," he says. "I want them to enjoy school."

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Art has a special bond with the families of many of his students, often teaching multiple generations within the same family. During a class break, he hugs student and family friend Andrea Holt before she walks to her next class.

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Art returns to Paducah Tilghman High School after visiting the staff at Paducah Middle School. He never expected he would end up in Paducah, but when Art came to the area after his reserve unit was assigned to the town, he immediately felt like he belonged.

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"The military is all I've known," Art says. His 15-year career in the active reserves heavily influences his approach to education and his job as principal. He is strict with his students and prioritizes their safety and security.

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Art visits his granddaughter Maddie, 6, during lunch at George Rogers Clark Elementary School. "That little girl is my heart," he says.

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Every Friday, Art has lunch with his son Brandon, who lives in Paducah. Staying close with his family is one of Art's priorities. He wants to ensure their wellbeing and happiness.

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Art is known throughout the school for his sense of style. He matches his accessories to his shoes and even sports a bow tie on casual Fridays.

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Most members of the community know Art because he has been at Paducah Tilghman for 25 years. Thomas George (right), a former student and friend, laughs with the principal at the school's football homecoming game.

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Art stands for the national anthem during the school's football homecoming game. He tries to stay involved in afterschool activities, which allows him to bond with students and community members outside of the classroom.

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Art laughs with students during the football homecoming game. "I know what it feels like to have pressure on you from other kids," Art says. Because he did not enjoy his high school experience, he tries to make it better for his students.

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After 25 years at Paducah Tilghman, Art says his time at the school is nearing an end. "You don't want to outstay your time." Though the principal plans to retire from the school system within the next year or two, he says he would like to teach, possibly at a local college.