One-man dynamo has a shining record

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Gary Davison talked about who the Huguenots were as he discussed Shakespeare with ninth-graders Angelic Brown-Skinner, 14, left, and Olimpia Pineda, 15, at New Salem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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In a tutoring market dominated by companies with high prices and questionable track records, Gary Davison stands apart.

Over the past three years, Davison's students have typically received 51.7 hours of tutoring -- almost twice as much as his competitors in the state's Supplemental Educational Services market.

He charges just $30 an hour, despite a pedigree that includes serving on a state committee that helped develop content standards for every school in Minnesota.

And he typically manages to start tutoring students in 18 days -- less than half the time required for the state's most popular providers -- even though he has no clerical staff and no ground crew.

"I love doing it," said Davison, the only staff member at Salem Inc. Educational Initiative in Minneapolis. "I not only do all the tutoring, I'm the van driver, community outreach, the administrator. ... I just go about it in a completely different way."

Davison said he got hooked on tutoring in 1971, when he was a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Over the course of his career, he has taught inner-city students at high schools in Texas and Minnesota. He tutors only in Minneapolis.

"I would have liked to do St. Paul, but there aren't enough hours in the day," Davison said.

Davison works face-to-face with his students, typically in small groups at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. Davison said the program is structured to help underachieving students catch up a full grade level over the course of a year. To get there, he said, it's crucial that they put in at least 40 hours. Records from Minneapolis Public Schools show that three-quarters of the 154 students he tutored in the past three years hit that mark.

Research shows students need at least 40 hours of tutoring for it to make a difference. By keeping his rates low, Davison is able to provide the extra hours without exceeding the district's spending limit, which is $1,637 per student this year.

While other tutoring companies claim it can take weeks or even months to track down enrolled students because of changing phone numbers and addresses, Davison said the solution is obvious.

"My approach is very hands-on, ground-based, and I never depend on telephone numbers in the beginning," Davison said. "It's addresses and knocking on doors."

Jeffrey Meitrodt • 612-673-4132

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