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Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Anne Keene has made an important impact on Guilford Public Schools (GPS) during her 20-year tenure, and is working hard to make the most of every moment in her final school year with GPS. She’ll retire from GPS in June. (Photo by Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
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Twenty years ago, Dr. Anne Keene started a tradition of reading a children’s book at convocation, the annual back-to-school gathering of Guilford Public School (GPS) teachers and administrators. This year, knowing she’ll retire in June from her post as associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Anne read two books, including one she’d been saving as a final gift to her peers.
“It was called The Three Questions, and it’s based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story [of the same name]. But it’s really about ‘What’s the most important thing?’ And the most important thing is what you’re doing right now. And the most important person is who you’re with right now. And as we’re thinking about building relationships with our students, with our teachers, it’s about this moment, and how do we get that in?” Anne says.
“I was saving it because I thought it was important, and so poignant, about this is the most important time and the person you’re with is the most important person, and the most important thing that you can do is to help them, in whatever way,” she says. “Help them learn, help them be a better person. So I wanted to save it for this year.”
Anne announced in August 2018, that she would retire at the end of the 2018-’19 school year.
At this year’s convocation, the other book Anne read, The Big Umbrella, is a metaphor for inclusion and tolerance. The messages of both books can be seen around the district and are even imprinted on oval vehicle magnets traveling around town, featuring a big red umbrella bookended by the words “Right Here, Right Now.”
“The Big Umbrella is a book about how everybody fits under the umbrella, and thinking about social and emotional learning and that we need to include everybody,” says Anne, who has shared many other thoughtful metaphors through the years with children’s books read at convocations.
A copy of each book she’s shared helps fill a bookcase in her Park Street office.
Forty years ago, Anne started her career as an educator in Kentucky. She taught elementary and high school students and rose through the ranks of the Pikeville, Kentucky school district to become assistant superintendent of schools. In 1999, Guilford came calling.
“I had been in that district for almost my entire career, about 20 years, and I thought, ‘You know, I’ve done about as much as I think I can do, and now’s the time.’ Pikeville was a smaller district, but it was very similar to Guilford in that parents really valued education and parents really wanting the very, very best for their children. And we fell in love with Guilford, and we decided to stay. So here I am!” says Anne, who relocated to Guilford with her husband and loves living in town.
She joined GPS in August 1999 as assistant superintendent, working with the district’s newly appointed superintendent of schools, Barbara Truex. Anne’s focus was on helping the district improve students’ ability to learn, and teachers’ ability to teach.
“When I first came here, the issue was the CMT and the CAPT scores were not nearly what the community thought they should be, and so one of my first goals was around developing a reading plan for students [and] just having a strong instructional background,” Anne says.
“We did focus very heavily on literacy those first few years, and then we started focusing on mathematics. And when I first came, there wasn’t any written curriculum for K-12. So one of my charges was to have a written document with expectations, and come up with plans to implement those,” she recalls.
“So those first few years, it was really about establishing a curriculum, getting our assessments where we thought they should be. Then, we started thinking about, ‘Okay, how do we have a common language? How do we pull seven buildings together under at least some kind of coherence?’ We started working on that, and focusing on professional learning opportunities not just for staff, but also for principals, so that we could bring them together. In the meantime, we had a change in superintendents.”
A Constant through Changes
In 2005, Anne took on the role of interim superintendent for a six-month period as the Board of Education (BOE) sought a new schools chief, and helped transition the district over to the leadership of Dr. Tom Forcella in December 2005. Six years later, she was again appointed as interim for a six-month period; and helped GPS welcome Dr. Paul Freeman to the post in November 2011.
In 2013, Anne’s title was transformed to associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, two areas in which she feels privileged to have helped grow and develop for GPS.
“Collaboration and elevating professional development—those aren’t my ideas,” she says. “Those are ideas that are out in the field, even nationwide or international ideas. But it was about ‘We can do this—and can we do it the best way that we know how?’ My job was to say, ‘What kind of professional learning do we have to have to make this happen? Do we have an attitude of being a lifelong learner?’ And it’s not enough to say, ‘I already know it all; I’m done.’ We all have a lot more to learn. I’m still learning, every day. And I won’t be stopping learning when I leave, either!”
Simply put, Anne loves her job.
“This position, I think, is the best position in the district, because I can stay focused on my work and I don’t have to get distracted. And its also about being able to see the big picture, because principals can only see their building, and maybe, if they’re an elementary school principal, their counterpart in another school. I get the opportunity to think about everything—all the way from the high school to the two middle schools and the four elementary schools—and I get to see the big picture,” she says.
“So sometimes I have to remind people, ‘Let’s think about the implications...What is the life of a child in Guilford from kindergarten to the 12th grade?’ It is such an honor to get to do that,” she says. “But it’s also a challenge!”
Her work with building administrators is part coach, part cheerleader and always done with partnership in mind.
“I also work hard to provide leadership and professional learning for principals and to a lesser extent to the assistant principals and the deans. Just making sure that people understand why we’re doing what we’re doing; what the expectations are. Are they clear? Lets go back and evaluate our work—did it pay off? How do you stay involved with what’s going on in the state? How do you stay involved in what’s going on in the nation? It’s a big task,” she says.
“I feel like they’re a partner. We’re in it together. We’re co-accountable to each other,” she adds. “I have to be vulnerable, too. I have to stand up and say, ‘That didn’t work; let’s try something else.’ Or, ‘That failed; what can we do differently?’”
During her tenure, Anne also helped GPS bring in the district’s first literacy and numeracy coaches about nine years ago. She visits classrooms to evaluate each of the districts coaches at their work. Another, earlier milestone was helping to start a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning, to help faculty develop a common language around instruction.
“We’ve all learned and grown so much as a result of that, and we’re still a partner with them. That’s been important,” says Anne. “We need an outside person to take a look at us and to say, ‘Well, you might want to think about this, or try something else.’ And that has been very valuable.”
This time of year is always budget time for Anne. She also well remembers one of the districts major budget issues—and years of work involved—in finding funding and support for the $92 million Guilford High School building project. It was finally approved, by referendum vote, in June 2014.
In her role, “I was really involved in exploring and doing research around kinds of furniture, and the kind of classroom designs that a school would need to support instruction. So it was still tied to my piece around instruction and learning, and really thinking that through,” says Anne, adding, “Because I was an interim superintendent in that time period, I was also able to work very closely with architects and our fantastic building committee that was so involved.”
Beyond the Schoolyard
Anne is also thankful for a career with GPS that’s been supported by the BOE, the district, and the community.
“I have been able to work with a Board of Education that has been so interested in teaching and learning, and that isn’t the case in a lot of districts,” she says. “Having a superintendent, and a Board of Education, not to even mention the parent community and the community at large, that says, ‘Instruction is so important, and learning is so important, and how can we be the best that we can possibly be?’ is so important. Are we perfect? No. But we’re striving, we’re always striving to be better. And that’s kind of been my philosophy from the get-go,” she says.
Having that support has made Anne not only feel appreciated, but also motivated and inspired.
“It makes you excited to come to work tomorrow and the next day,” she says. “And it will be hard to leave. It will be very hard. Because I feel like the board, and the principals, and the teachers and the support staff, are like family. But it’s good to have new blood and have a new challenge for the district. And so I think it will be good.”
She also has some great advice for the district’s next associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
“Know why you are doing what you’re doing,” says Anne. “I love the line that says, ‘Everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.’ When you really think about that, you’ve got to know your community, you need to know the staff. I really think that professional development and professional learning is the answer in how we can keep supporting teachers and get them to be more reflective on their practice. Because they’re the ones that are closest to children...What can we do to help them grow and be better? Because it’s all about a learning organization—that’s what schools are. So we can’t say, ‘We already know this, this is the answer.’ There is no one answer.”
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