“Does she know what it’s like down here in August?” they asked.
Theresa Keel does. In her 26 years in education she has worked in El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano, Denton, Sealy, Ingram, Anderson and Bandera.
Then she moved to Cordova, Alaska, on the mouth of the Copper River on the east side of Prince William Sound — population 2,500 in winter, double that in summer — accessible only by air for eight months out of the year.
“People who go into educational administration in small districts become migrant workers,” she says, recounting all the places she has called home.
Keel became PISD superintendent on Aug. 11.
The district has been without a superintendent since the board forced Brian Thompson to resign Feb. 14.
After earning her master’s in education administration from Texas Woman’s University in Denton in 2002 and then a superintendent’s certificate from Texas Tech, she worked as a teacher, a cheerleader coach, an assistant principal, a principal, a director of curriculum and a special programs director.
“I always found myself being pushed into leadership roles,” she says, “and always wearing multiple hats.”
Throughout her career, she has preferred smaller districts.
“I don’t think I could ever go back to the big, monster districts where I started my career. I think you have more effect on children. There’s greater opportunity to create student success.”
Ready to become a superintendent, she applied for the post in Cordova.
She asked her husband, George, “How would you feel if they gave me a call?”
The district did.
The procedure by which the Cordova district picked a superintendent was opposite of how superintendents are chosen in Texas.
“It’s all very public. The secrecy that surrounds superintendent searches in Texas does not exists in Alaska,” she recalls. “I was interviewed with two other candidates. We actually stood on a stage while audience members asked questions. It was a packed house. They asked what they wanted to ask you. It was a unique experience.”
Keel became superintendent; George became the chief of police.
“I thought I would live forever in Cordova,” she says, even with its rain that is worse than in Seattle and summer temperatures normally in the 50s. “You will never hear me complain about the summer temperatures down here,” she promises.
But, Cordova was a long way from her Texas family.
“You could Facetime with grandchildren, but they don’t know you,” she says. “Finally, it was just time to come back to Texas.”
Being superintendent in Pettus, she says, “was a perfect fit. I’m a person of faith. When I went to Alaska, all the doors opened easily to get us there. Then, another door opened for us to come back, so we can be closer to family.”
Keel has done her homework. She is aware of the tempestuous time when the board fired Thompson — a move that poured salt into an already festering social wound that politically split the Pettus community.
Choosing her words carefully, she says, “We need to heal those wounds and move forward. We have a road ahead of us here. School business is complex, and personalities in school business are complex. It has to be a perfect fit. I am glad I am the fit, and we want to approach it in a real positive manner.”
Pettus students are in for a surprise when they start school Aug. 25. Keel plans to ride her motorcycle to work.
However, before that, there is a planned shopping trip for cotton sheets.
“Flannel sheets down here,” she says, “just don’t work.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.