The Board of Education finalized the decision to hire Dr. Keisha Campbell as the new superintendent on April 13 and will assume the position on July 1. Dr.Campbell spoke about her background in education and her values and influences as she became an educator.
ThisIsYork (TIY): Just to start, can you tell us about your prior education experience before coming to District 205?
Dr. Campbell: I have over 20 years of experience as an educator. When I was here at York, I was engaged in Invite to Teach and had the privilege of going over to an elementary school and assisting the teachers in the classroom, kind of like a teacher assistant.
Then I went to Illinois State University where I studied elementary education. After graduating, I came back, and I started my teaching career as an intermediate teacher. I started off teaching the fourth and fifth graders, and then decided that I wanted to just continue to develop my skills and my toolkit to reach even more students.
That’s when I went back to the University of Illinois, Chicago, and worked on my Master’s in Instructional Leadership with an emphasis in reading, writing and literacy that allowed me to become a reading coach. I was then asked to come to the district level and to be a district wide reading coach. That was super exciting. I then decided that my passion for learning [was] to go back to school.
And that’s when I went back to University of Illinois, Chicago and started to work and pursue a doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership. That’s when I had the privilege of becoming a principal. I was the principal for four years and then was asked to become a district administrator.
TIY: What would you consider as your values as an educator?
Dr. Campbell: I value diversity, equity and inclusion. I value collaboration and partnership. I value really ensuring that as a school and as a district that we prioritize and keep things focused on being student centered. So, I value student-centered decision making. And as you know, I value the love of learning, I value learning and the enjoyment of [learning]. And [regarding] learning, I think about it holistically. So I value social and emotional as well as academic wellness. Those are few of the values that I think [are] worth elevating.
TIY: What inspired you to pursue a career in education administration?
Dr. Campbell: I naturally just gravitated towards education. So, when you asked about the influence, I would say that my mother was definitely my biggest influence, as well as the one that inspired me. She, in 2016, retired after serving for 47 years as an educator and what is so amazing about that is all 47 years were at the same school. She started off as a teacher, and then matriculated to becoming an administrator. I will definitely say that she was an inspiration and will continue to be an influence in terms of my drive and my passion towards public education.
TIY: What do you envision for schools next year considering COVID-19?
Dr. Campbell: I first want to underscore that safety will always be a top priority for us staff as well as students. But with that being said, as has already been communicated in a letter, we are looking forward to school being open all day for our students. As also mentioned, [we will keep] the standard comprehensive academic programming as well as extra curricular activities and programs in place because we believe that that is important. That’s what is best for students, even socially as well as emotionally during this time. And we’ll continue to make sure that we’re doing what is necessary and what is best to support students, their academic success, and their social and emotional success. So that’s what I am envisioning for next year.
Dr. Campbell: Some older students feel that there isn’t enough student-admin interaction and sometimes feel underrepresented when district decisions are made. How would you plan to address this?
TIY: I think that at the moment, my plan is actually to find [and] create as many opportunities to engage with students to listen and to hear. I think that it is so important, as the new superintendent, that I have the opportunity to engage with students. And I am definitely open and welcome to hear from our students and particularly, students who have in the past maybe felt underrepresented.
I think that by listening to students and having those opportunities to engage with those students will then further prepare and inform conversations that I can have with leaders, and that being school leaders as well as district leaders. And I honestly think that those conversations are critical going back to in terms of the work around diversity, inclusion and equity. I think those conversations are going to be critical to informing what the path forward will be for addressing some of the concerns that are shared by students.
TIY: Could you elaborate on how you will address and interact with the teacher’s union?
Dr. Campbell: I look forward to really connecting with the leadership of the union and establishing, from the beginning, a very positive working relationship that allows us to ultimately lead to a shared commitment of serving students. And so I think one of the keywords that you can hear is just my sense of engagement, my value of collaboration, and also wanting to welcome right for thought partnership, but really making sure we quickly identify and find our shared commitments and our shared goals that allow us to move forward to continue to best serve our students across our district.
TIY: What direction do you hope to take the district in the long term?
Dr. Campbell: I am situating myself as a learner to really understand as much as possible about all of the phenomenal, great things that are happening across our district, because there are so many amazing things that are happening.
Just today, walking and having a quick tour of York and peeping into classrooms and seeing across all of our departments… There’s just such amazing work that is actually taking place.
And I want to learn, and I want to understand that. I think in my learning and understanding that we’ll also learn where our next opportunities are, and so I want to make sure that it’s known that, in order to create a plan, that plan needs to be well informed by the current context about the current celebrations and the things that are going well, and not to undermine or not to undo that work. But I’m looking for ways to collaborate with our community, with our parents, with our students, with our staff, to build upon that and really, to make sure that we have a strong path forward.
TIY: What was your favorite moment from your time at York?
Dr. Campbell: I think that as a former band member, as well as a cheerleader, I cannot underestimate our football games, but more also, this was the era of Coach Newton and being on the track, being at the cross country nationals. Being at that finish line as a cheerleader and coming back and being on the bus and hanging out the windows singing “We Are The Champions” as we made our way back to York; those are moments that are etched in my mind and in my heart. Whether that was just my contributions to our school community, or that being recognized by my fellow peers and other staff members, and then just the celebratory aspect that came with student life and we’re all very special.
TIY: How will your experience as both a D205 parent and alum influence your new role?
Dr. Campbell: I believe [it will be important] for the leaders to have those connections with community members and staff members and students. And so it’s important to know that, listen, you all are going to see me in the grocery store. You’re going to be, you know, maybe walking down the Prairie Path [and see me], because I’m very much embedded. I live here and I grew up here. And I think that’s going to just help allow that establishment of trust for us to be partners and really continue to do the work to best serve our students.