By John Burton
Red Bank teacher lauded for nearly 34 years of caring
RED BANK – Calvary Baptist Church started to fill up about 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 23, as former students, family, fellow church members and colleagues gathered to honor Sandra Davis.
“God had a special destiny for Sister Davis,” observed the Rev. Warren Howell, as he told of her work with the church and her more than three decades of teaching borough children at Red Bank Primary School.
Howell joined the Rev. Dwight Crist Northington, pastor at Calvary Baptist, 23 River St., to honor the work of Davis, as she retires from teaching.
“It’s good that we only retire one time,” said Davis, who seemed quite moved by the outpouring from the crowd, which included some students and friends she has known her whole life.
“We should appreciate our teachers,” said a woman in the audience. “We should thank God for them.”
Davis, who lives in Neptune and works with the church as an evangelist, retired from her career with the school district where she worked for almost 34 years. Over the course of her career, she taught most of the primary school grades, but acknowledged there was a special place in her heart for the preschool classes she taught for a time. “I thought they were the most rewarding for me.”
Davis’ father, who owned a small business in Freehold where the family lived, died when Davis was 13. His death made it financially difficult for the family and made college seem almost impossible for Davis. At one point a teacher told her she never would go to college. “I wanted to go to college to become somebody,” she said. She is a graduate of Georgian Court.
Initially, she hoped to become a singer, she confided. But as time went on, she decided that was a dream she may not be able to realize – though she sings in church. Ultimately, she decided to become a teacher and help future generations realize their dreams.
“I was taught you had two dreams,” she said this week. “You had a dream that was maybe far-fetched and one reality dream. My reality dream was to become a teacher.”
Davis was hired to work in the Red Bank school district, and immediately found a connection with the community, especially its youngest members, who she got to know over the years. She believes settling into a career here was not just happenstance, but a divine intervention.
“Red Bank just seemed like the place I was supposed to work and I feel I was placed in Red Bank to help the children who were falling through the cracks, the children who needed extra love,” she said.
When Davis first started with the district, the west side community and a good portion of the public school enrollment, were African-American. Now, the cultural tide has changed and enrollment and the overall community have become increasingly Hispanic. The school also has a significant population that qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunch programs, a traditional government barometer for poverty.
“I saw my state in some of the children who came through the school,” she said. “I felt I needed to be a stabilizer for them,” with so many being raised in single-parent homes or by grandparents.
She acknowledged praying for her students and offering them guidance on occasion. In return, Davis said many of them continue to keep in touch with her, some even calling her on Mother’s Day and on holidays.
“I knew I was a firm but loving teacher,” she said. “I wouldn’t let them get away with anything. But when they left my room, they knew they had to learn.”
“That’s the kind of woman she is,” said Toni Brown, a borough native who was taught by Davis. “Mrs. Davis tries to put you back together again.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna presented Davis with a proclamation from the borough council honoring her service. Menna called Davis a bridge between the old and new Red Bank. Speaking for her former students, he told her, “You taught us to say I’m sorry. You taught us how to give forgiveness.
“Don’t give up the fight,” the mayor said, referring not only to her career as an educator but her 25 years with the Greater Red Bank Chapter of the NAACP, the last four as vice president.
Davis, who called herself “an activist,” said she plans to continue her work with the NAACP and with her church. “My purpose now is to help enable the poor.”