Many of the parents and grandparents who drop off their children at school never see the people who help keep the schools open and running. It’s just one of the jobs at the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) performed by devoted employees with the shared goal of making sure the school environment is in top condition for students to learn.
At the conclusion of 2015, a man who has spent the better part of the last 30 years fixing schools will hang up his tools and retire from his long career with the HIDOE.
In 1985, Jeff Davis began his career at the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS). He was assigned to the Central, Honolulu, and Windward districts performing school repair and maintenance.
Davis said it was a great feeling to serve the schools and earn a paycheck for a good day’s work.
Through the years, he worked his way up the ranks, becoming a foreman and then a supervisor at the Honolulu District. Davis motivated his crew to take ownership of each campus and put themselves in the place of the students.
“My mentor, Harry Kaneshiro, told me years ago ‘What ever it is, you never shut a school down. You do whatever it takes, whether working over the weekend or nights — to keep a school running, you do it,’” Davis recalled. “He told me it was my job to help parents, teachers, and hundreds of other people to keep their schedules.”
Davis takes pride in the fact that he has never had to close a school. He said it takes his team and other contractors through the middle of the night to complete various school work-order emergencies.
Eventually, Davis returned to the Central District, where he served as district manager. For the last 14 years, he oversaw 43 schools and two complex areas, from Fort Shafter Elementary School to Sunset Beach Elementary School. He managed a team of 25 employees. On average, his team worked on 120 to 175 work orders a week.
In 2005, HIDOE's Office of School Facilities and Support Services (OSFSS) was created, and the DAGS Facilities Maintenance Branch (FMB) transferred to OSFSS.
Davis is passionate about improving the situation for students and staff and it’s evident when he talks about what the team can accomplish at the campuses.
“I tell my guys take a humble approach to work with the teachers and school administrators to get work orders done,” Davis said. “Be collaborative and you’d be amazed at how much the teachers, cafeteria workers and administrators will help you get your job done.”
“Ask anybody and they will tell you that Jeff Davis is always there for his schools,” said Dr. John Brummel, Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area Superintendent. “Our principals and head custodians have asked for special assistance with various projects, and Jeff is always there. He has a direct line and people call him day or night. No matter when it is, Jeff always asks, ‘How can I help you?’”
“Once I spoke with Jeff I knew that any problem we had would be rectified in a timely manner. Once he was on the scene I knew we were going to be good to go,” said John Erickson, Aiea-Moanalua-Radford Complex Area Superintendent. “Jeff was a man of his word and his modus operandi was, ‘Let's get the job done.’”
The FMB crews have a wide range of work from painting and portable stair repairs to emergency work to remove falling trees and roofs, to water main problems.
In November 2015, Davis responded to an emergency issue at Red Hill Elementary School. When he arrived, water was gushing out of a broken water main. His team worked to repair the line and keep operations at the school going. Davis was seen directing school traffic, because, “Jeff does whatever needs to be done.”
The crew worked through the day to secure the 8-inch pipe and, as they began finishing up at around 7 p.m., they discovered another 3-inch pipe had also burst. Davis and his team scrambled to work on the second pipe in order to make sure classes would be in session the next morning.
"When an emergency has occurred, Jeff has always responded immediately,” Red Hill Elementary Principal Mona Smoot said. “That is why when we had several water main breaks in November we were not forced to close school. His team worked long hours, late into the night and through the downpours, to restore water so school could open the following day. Throughout my 10 years at this school, he has always been there for the schools and it has been a pleasure working with him."
When you talk to other administrators and staff at schools in the Central District, you hear the stories again and again of high level of response and dedication to getting things done. Davis and the crew are well respected as are many of the FMB teams.
“Jeff is a problem solver and that is what makes him such a successful District Manager for Facilities Maintenance. He doesn’t say he can’t fix the problem, he just figures out how to do it,” Moanalua High Principal Robin Martin said. “He always returns calls and stands up for the school and the administrator when something needs to be accomplished. He has been a huge support and has accomplished so much for our schools.”
When asked what he’s going to miss the most about his job, Davis points to the people. He is proud of the team members he hired. While he will miss that camaraderie and helping the schools, Davis said he feels confident the team he leaves behind will continue to provide great service.
"You need the guys that have the skills but also have the team-player attitude," Davis said. "My guys know what to do and they work with give-and-take to get the jobs done!"