By ANGYE MORRISON
Keith Wright knew early on that he wanted to work with kids. Now in his first year as principal at Statesboro High School, Wright is originally from Vernon, Florida, near Panama City Beach. After graduating from high school, he attended Enterprise State Community College in Alabama, where he played basketball. He went on to finish his college education at Coker College, now known as Coker University, in Hartsville, South Carolina.
Wright has since earned three degrees at Georgia Southern University, including master’s degrees in counseling and in leadership, and a specialist degree in educational leadership.
After he graduated from Coker, Wright went to work for a company called AMIkids, which subcontracted with the state of Georgia. He worked with the company for almost 20 years, and his primary role was to open up new facilities, which he did in South Carolina and Louisiana, before being transferred to Sylvania, Georgia. Wright soon began to feel that the children the program served needed to be reached sooner.
“When I first started, the youngest kid was like, 17. When I left, the youngest kid was like, 12. So I wanted to get into the school system so I could catch those kids before they ended up getting into the system,” he said.
Wright began working at Richmond Hill High School as a school counselor, then Bryan County High as an assistant principal and athletic director. Although at that point he had been living in Bulloch for some time, it wasn’t until he had an opportunity to work at Langston Middle School that he began working closer to home. He was the athletic director and assistant principal at the school for a year, before being hired as principal at Langston Elementary. He started this school year at Statesboro High.
When asked why he’s a principal, Wright says he wants to help shape the lives of the students he encounters.
“To be able to mentor, that always appealed to me growing up. That’s something I’ve always done. I knew I was going to work with students, so this is the best place to be able to do that, to be able to impact students’ lives, you know, educationally, as well as social and emotional,” he said.
Giving back to others is something that was instilled in Wright at an early age, which he credits to his mother, who is a retired nurse, and who he says also instilled in him the value of hard work.
“That’s been huge to me,” he said.
He’s also found some great mentors, beginning with the woman who first hired him in Richmond Hill, Debi McNeal. He also points to Lisa Brown, former principal at Metter High, Torian White at South Effingham High, and Elizabeth Williams, retired principal from Bulloch County. He also points to Teresa Phillips and Kelly Spence as “two people I gravitate to.”
“I value their opinions a lot,” he said. “They help me along. There have been a lot of people that have impacted my life a lot, that have impacted me to help the students that I serve.”
It’s early on in the school year, but even so, Wright says he’s been impressed by what he’s seen so far at Statesboro High.
“This is an awesome place. When I first got selected to come over here, I met the staff, the faculty, and I knew that Statesboro High was a special place. Most of the staff here has graduated here, so they are deeply invested in seeing Statesboro High be the best it can possibly be. The kids are great,” he said.
Wright spent his first three days of the school year — which he says were outstanding — meeting and greeting the kids. He says the teachers are very energized about having the students back in the building.
“We started off a great year,” he said. “I see the sky is the limit here.” One of the biggest things Wright wants to accomplish at SHS is to “create and maintain a collaborative, trusting learning environment for all the stakeholders.” This includes teachers, students, parents and the community.
To accomplish this goal, Wright says he is calling on teachers, parents, students and the community to work as one single unit to “make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that our students have the best education there is possible.”
“I see all the great things that are happening, and I want to make sure that the community sees it as well,” he said. “Making sure that this community understands that this is the best school here in Bulloch County, it’s the biggest school. We’re proud of Statesboro High, and we want everyone else to be proud of Statesboro High as well.”
Since school started, Wright has been out in the hallways with students in between classes, and he visited each classroom the first day. He has also met with each grade, making sure the students understand his expectations for the school and the student body.
Wright says he wants to be sure that everyone feels safe at SHS. He has an open door policy and has encouraged students to email him or drop by and tell him about what they want to see happen at SHS.
“I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk with them about it because this is their school,” he said.
One of the big concerns facing students and faculty alike this year is dealing with COVID-19 and all that comes with that. Although it’s still early in the new school year, Wright says he reminds students daily to monitor their health. The staff does a lot of cleaning at the school, and students are still maintaining social distancing. The gym is opened up so that the students can spread out, particularly during lunch.
“We’re just trying to educate the kids, educate their parents. That’s the most important thing that we can do right now, help everybody kind of understand. We do have our protocols as it relates to if something happens as well,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges
teachers are facing this year, Wright says, is finding the gaps in each student’s education due to COVID, since students haven’t been in the building since March 13, 2020.
“It’s very important to me to make sure that we are investing in our kids, knowing where our kids are at,” he said. “Our district has been doing a great job by hiring additional school improvement staff that will help close that gap and identify what they need to do.” There are also school climate officials who help students deal with the social and emotional issues that they face.
“We’re trying to help the kids from all angles; socially, emotionally, academically. We’re trying to make sure that we address each and every need,” he said.
When asked what working in the education field has taught him, Wright pauses then laughs.
“It’s a lot,” he said. “The value of education and how far it can take you. It’s definitely been a journey for me, just coming to understand from the place of being the Department of Justice employee to the school system. Just the value of understanding what education can do for you. It’s taught me a lot of how to address the kids’ needs as well, just looking at it not just one way.”
Wright is well aware that in his position, he will leave a legacy for the student body at SHS. As to what that legacy might be, well, his answer is simple.
“I want them to remember that when Keith Wright came to Statesboro High, that one, I did it the right way. Two, I tried to build relationships with kids, build relationships with the community and just kind of bring people together as a whole in doing what’s best for kids. When people think of me, that’s just kind of what I do. I preach it a lot, building relationships. Not just with kids, but with each other as well. That’s just my biggest thing.”
Wright says that all too often, parents, teachers and administrators get frustrated when the kids just don’t want to learn, or stop behaving or doing what they need to do in class.
“I always tell the teachers, first thing, the kid has got to be ready to learn. So we will love on the kids, build those relationships, and be ready when they are ready to learn,” he said.
Wright is married to Naronda, who is a graduate admissions specialist at Georgia Southern. Their blended family includes five children. Four of them are grown and out on their own, leaving one left at home — Kameron Wright is in the sixth grade this year at Langston Middle.
Wright, who is 51, says he loves to golf, but he’s just not very good at it. He was trained by a chef when he was young, and says that although he doesn’t each much, he does enjoy cooking, especially lasagna. But his passion is working with kids.
“I’ve done it for 20-plus years. I have a drive for that, making sure that our kids have everything that they need, and being a role model for kids. I always like to model for them what I expect from them,” he said, pointing to his use of “sir” and “ma’am,” even among students. “I model what I like to see.”