Keller reflects on superintendent stint

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
First, it has to be “we” because I accomplished nothing on my own. We increased the opportunities available in classes, pathways, career and technical education, certifications, technology and technical education for all children. We haven’t set up those opportunities to be exclusive and I’m seriously proud of that.

Also, the relationship between Board members had a positive impact on the culture in this community and the schools. The relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors – both elected Boards are integral in moving schools forward. When they’re willing to have a dialogue that is civil and grounded in fact, I believe there is nothing stopping us from having one of the finest school systems in the state. I took intentional steps to make that happen. [One of them] was every four to six weeks the School Board and Board of Supervisors chair, the county administrator and I met for breakfast – I usually cooked – purely to share ideas. Everyone leaves with a better understanding of each other and of our responsibility to our children. It’s a simple thing but so fundamental.

What were some of the most difficult things you faced and how did you get through them?

Difficulties? Hmmm…there were many, but I’d say being able to build trust and relationships during the toughest deficits the school system ever faced. [In 2012 the Board of Supervisors cut school funding by $1.2 million.] All of our staff had so much swirling around them about accountability and lack of resources. I said it was like trying to hold sand. There were times when we thought we had a grasp of what was happening and what we needed to do and we’d look down and see a pile of sand at our feet.

It’s human nature to try and point to the reason for all the hating and it’s futile because the reasons were nebulous and complex. But I’m proud the School Board stood with me and we led our people through the nightmare. Now we’re on the other side. It was definitely our job to roll up our sleeves and rise above the fray. It can’t be us versus them. [When it’s all over] people will remember who you are and what you stand for if you rise above the fray. I will say it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.

What trepidation do you have about leaving and taking the new job?
I have no trepidation. I believe we’re in good hands. That’s the beauty of this particular moment in time. I’m in a place where I can leave with a good succession plan with [Assistant Superintendent] Chuck Winkler stepping in as interim [superintendent]. We’ll continue to live in Fluvanna because this is our home and we both expect to be actively engaged in supporting the school system.

[Keller lives in Palmyra with her husband, Dr. Lawrence Keller, and her daughter Lauren.]

What’s left unfinished here?
Nothing is ever finished in public education. You can frame it this way: When you work in any organization, the work, the focus, the problems come as you peel back the layers like an onion. There is still so much work to do. I’d like to see continued focus on staff salaries and benefits. That should never lose its place in the conversation.

We need to continue providing technology. We must provide the paper and pencil of the 21st century. In the 2018-2019 school year, high school programs will look different. The 11th and 12th years will be rich with internships, engaged opportunities and the high school physical plant will give us a leg up on that. I can’t thank our community enough for that.

What are you looking forward to?
Professionally I’m looking forward to a new challenge. I like working with teams of people who are solution-focused. In my new role I’ll have the opportunity to develop resources to impact schools and children throughout the state.

Personally, I’m looking forward to having a little more flexibility and time to take care of myself.  I’d also like to become a more active member of Fluvanna County.
I like to cook. I’m looking forward to doing more cooking.

Anything else you’d like to say?
I’d like to genuinely thank Barbara Gibbons, Bertha Armstrong, Camilla Washington, Tom Muir and the late Doug Johnson for hiring me in 2010 and giving me this opportunity to affect the lives of the children and the county.

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