In honor of Women’s History Month, Touchmark launched an initiative to identify and recognize exceptional female residents who defied the odds in their professional and personal lives to pursue opportunities that were historically off-limits for women. Please enjoy the story of Rosalind Davenport, a resident at Touchmark at Mount Bachelor Village.
Please tell us about your personal and professional background.
I was born in Berkeley, California, to a dysfunctional but loving family, and by 18 years old, I was on my own. I worked while going to college and was married at 19. My husband and I both earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology, and we ended up with two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and my husband earned a PhD in clinical psychology. While studying psychology, I became fascinated with behavioral learning theory, and my master’s degree is in special education. I had a cousin with special needs, so this was an area in which I was particularly interested.
I then taught for 20 years in the classroom with ages ranging from infants to adults and mostly with individuals with learning disabilities and/or emotional disturbance.
After teaching in the classroom, I went into administration in special education and eventually became a principal of an elementary school in Alameda, California. After I retired from my school district, I did educational consulting for five years.
Why did you decide to pursue psychology?
I pursued psychology because I was fascinated by learning theory — how people learn and how they retain the information.
What obstacles did you face pursuing your education and career opportunities?
In the mid-1970s, a federal law was passed requiring a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities. It took several years to implement the law and for people to support it. In the early stages of implementing the law, some teachers would say, “No way will I have someone with disabilities in my classroom.” This was a challenge. It took time and energy to educate the teachers and administrators and develop the structures needed to support change so students with disabilities weren’t segregated into a separate educational environment.
Eventually, teachers adapted, and if a child was in a wheelchair or struggling to read, the teachers had the skills to accommodate students with disabilities.
“Overall, nobody likes change; it’s an experience that is difficult for people to embrace. It takes a lot of time to create a new normal, and it’s not an option to say no.”
How did you overcome those challenges?
I see challenges as opportunities. When I accepted the principalship of a high poverty, low-performing school, all I heard from staff was the word “can’t,” so I used the acronym CAN (Creating Achievement Now) to set the expectation that we could change the school into a high-performing school. I knew we could do it; we just needed to figure out how.
What is one thing you wish you had known before you pursued this path?
Professionally, I wish I would have known that setbacks and challenges were actually opportunities to learn. I would have been more of a risk-taker if I had realized that early on in my career.
What advice would you give to women pursuing barrier-breaking careers today?
I believe that challenges are truly opportunities; there are no easy answers. You need to focus, take small bites out of each problem, and continue with persistence and perseverance. I would encourage women to find a mentor; when I was a principal and later when I was the Director of Special Education, I found a mentor and called her my “other brain.” She would give me feedback and help me see challenges from a different perspective. It was invaluable having a person I trusted who could help me think through issues.
What activities/hobbies/opportunities do you participate in now?
I’m definitely living the full life both at Touchmark and in the greater community. At Touchmark, I’m the Chair of our Resident Council, and I also love the lectures, outings, and exercise classes. I particularly enjoy my participation in Allies for Equity, a social justice and racial equity group at Touchmark. I’m part of a small group of residents who took racial equity classes at Central Oregon Community College. I have led discussion groups and book studies. Throughout my career, social justice and racial equity have always been a passion for me.
I love to sew, and I volunteer at Partners in Care, where I work in the kitchen at Hospice House. With my love and passion for travel, I’m particularly excited about studying Spanish. I have two teachers with two classes weekly—one from Spain and one from Bend. My last trip was to Seville, Spain, where I spent six weeks in language school. Since I have not been able to travel due to the pandemic, I am now taking lessons remotely via Zoom. My dream is to go to every Spanish-speaking country in the world. There are over 20 of them, and I’ve only been to four; I have quite a few still on the list.
Outside of your family, what are the accomplishments in your life of which you are most proud?
At one point in my career, I was a special education coordinator, and the superintendent asked me to become the principal of a high poverty, low-performing school. At the time, the school’s state ranking was 3 out of 10; its similar school ranking was 7 out of 10. The school had 33% English-language learners, had 90% of the students on free and reduced lunch, and 5% of the students were white. The largest public-housing development was across from the school.
When I took the job, the testing required under the federal No Child Left Behind law had just begun. I was a professional developer for the University of Kansas’ Strategic Instruction Model, which I shared with my staff. I was also determined to encourage teachers to collaborate with lesson planning, sharing data, and building instructional strategies. Once the teachers began to see successes, they became really motivated.
I’m proud of our results. At the end of six years of implementing new learning strategies and supporting teachers in this change, the school state rankings went from a 3 to a 7, and the similar school ranking went from a to 7 to 10.
Overall, my philosophy for change is that it takes vision, time, persistence, and support.