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Keeler looks back on work with schools as he moves forward
SoVaNow.com / April 03, 2013For three years, Dr. John Keeler has overseen finances and academics for Mecklenburg County Public Schools. During that time, the school division closed one elementary school, Buckhorn, built gymnasiums at three elementary schools and is about to erect additions to replace aging and dilapidated trailers at La Crosse, Clarksville and Chase City elementary schools.
Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, Keeler will use the skills he developed during his 28 years in education to oversee a new school system, Buena Vista City Schools. Keeler will be their superintendent.
Keeler came to Mecklenburg County after serving 10 years as the principal of a school in Colonial Heights. He was earlier an assistant principal, assistant football coach and head track coach in Dinwiddie County, head football coach and athletic director in Goochland and earth science teacher, football, basketball and track coach in Chesterfield County.
He has already begun the process of transitioning away from Mecklenburg County. He currently spends one day a week in Buena Vista, helping them develop their school budget for the coming year. “If I have to live with it, I want to be part of developing it,” Keeler says.
He is excited to begin this new venture in academia. “The people in that area really get into their schools. They like to accentuate the positive. It was one of the things I really liked about the school system.” At the same time, he sees many similarities between Mecklenburg County and Buena Vista City schools, including their financial plight and the economic condition of people living in the area.
His enthusiasm for this new position does not diminish the bittersweet feelings he has about leaving. “I will miss the relationships I developed with the people I’ve worked with for the past three years. It is a great staff. From the teachers and administrators to the support staff, they all do an outstanding job — especially the support staff who are the true unsung heroes.”
Keeler leaves behind a legacy that promotes student achievement from elementary through high school. He introduced the Senior of the Month program which honors two students each month for their academic and civic leadership achievements, the HEROES [Helping Everyone Reach Optimal Education Success] program, which provides mentors to freshman and sophomore “middle spectrum” students, and the All A’s medal ceremony.
Having brought these recognitions from Colonial Heights to Mecklenburg County, Keeler now hopes to introduce Senior of the Month, HEROES, and the All A’s Awards to his new schools. These programs have given Keeler some of his most memorable experiences as an educator. “You can’t forget watching a child blossom during a field trip to a college campus, as they realize that college may be in their future. Or the smiles of the children as they receive their medals for making all A’s. It’s priceless.”
Perhaps his favorite memory came during the first Senior of the Month banquet in Mecklenburg County. Students invite their mentor to banquet. After dinner, students publicly thank the teacher or adult who most influenced them. One young man from Bluestone High School choked back tears as he spoke to the man who had served as a mentor and father figure to him, his baseball coach.
Ever the mentor, Keeler hopes his decision to move from his current position to Superintendent of Buena Vista City Schools will be a learning tool for the Mecklenburg students he has grown to cherish. He wants them to learn to embrace change. “Yes, stepping up and making a change is scary, but if you have a plan, believe in what you are doing and stay committed and focused, you will be rewarded with a good experience.”
When asked what he hopes the people who worked with him will remember, Keeler said, “They enjoyed working with me and that we worked well together.”
He also thanked Superintendent of Schools James Thornton and the School Board, saying, “I appreciate the opportunity that Jim Thornton gave me. I also appreciate the wholehearted support given us by the School Board.”
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