McKenzie: Seeking student success in the classroom, on the field

Editor’s note: October is National Principals Month. The Pee Dee Post will publish profiles on each of the county’s school principals during the month.
Jamie Greene
Yvonne Gilmer
Ellen Mabe
Joyce McRae
Hal Shuler
Angela Watkins
Dawn Terry
Pam Patterson
Andy Reeder
Julian Carter
Susan Brigman
* Michael Chapman

By Mallory Brown
Richmond County Schools

Teaching, Keith McKenzie says, is something he always knew he wanted to do.

The seventh-year principal is in the midst of his third year at Richmond Senior High School. Though his career has allowed him to work with multiple age groups, he continues to be motivated by one thing.

Keith McKenzie

Keith McKenzie

“It comes down to seeing students succeed, whether it’s in academics or athletics,” he said. “I think that’s what most teachers want — the satisfaction of being part of that process.”

McKenzie was born in Hamlet and grew up in Rockingham, where he remained until the 11th grade when he moved in with his brother in West Memphis, Ark. After graduating from Marion High School, he returned to his roots in North Carolina and received his bachelor’s degree from Pembroke State University, before later pursuing his Master of School Administration from East Carolina University.

McKenzie’s teaching career began in 1985 at Hamlet Junior High where he worked under Principal Robert Beck.

“He gave me my first opportunity,” McKenzie said. “I was a science and P.E. teacher and coached two sports.”

The experience of being a new teacher, he added, was one he still remembers as an administrator.

“You see teachers now,” he said, “and you put yourself in that position. It takes you back to those first few weeks and months — to those first couple of years of growing pains you go through as a teacher. In my position now, I have the experience to assure them that things will get better, that they’re going to learn so much their first couple of years.”

In 1992, McKenzie transferred to Monroe Avenue Elementary as a physical education teacher under Rick Watkins. He worked there for three years before taking a position at Washington Street Elementary with former principal Joe Richardson.

“I was fortunate enough to work for some exceptional administrators,” McKenzie said. “When I was working for Joe Richardson, he was a principal that everyone had a lot of respect for. Dr. Weatherly was also the superintendent at that time and I respected his leadership qualities.”

In fact, he credits Weatherly and Richardson for motivating him to return to school for his master’s degree.

“I started my internship and moved right into administration as an assistant principal at Washington Street,” McKenzie continued. “I was there for three years. Then I got my first chance as a principal at Hoffman.”

From Hoffman Elementary, McKenzie would eventually move to Fairview Heights before an opportunity presented itself in the form of a new school — East Rockingham Elementary.

“It was a big challenge,” he admitted, “but I remember walking through the building before it was even complete. There was a certain level of excitement in knowing those children would be the first group to open the school — and to experience that with them was something I would never forget.”

Two years later, former superintendent George Norris asked McKenzie to consider a principalship at Richmond Senior High.

“Dr. Norris gave me a chance at a job that I’d always thought was a challenge, but also one that had its rewards,” he said. “I’ll always appreciate the opportunity to step up and meet that challenge.”

His time at the high school has been rewarding largely because of the students, he said.

“The coolest thing,” McKenzie said, “is that a lot of the students I had as an assistant principal and as a P.E. teacher — those students are out here now, so I still have a relationship with them. We talk sometimes and it’s really special to see how they’ve grown and what they’ve grown to be.”

Even as an administrator, he said he makes it a point to visit classrooms regularly.

“I still enjoy seeing student success,” McKenzie said, “especially when I’m doing an observation and I notice students that are really in-tune to the lesson — I get excited for them even though I’m not the one in front of the class. I still see it, I’m still around it and I still get satisfaction from that same process. I’ve always enjoyed that, and I’m sure I always will.”

But it’s not only the students that motivate this seasoned principal — it’s also the staff.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with a lot of great educators,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work and they put in a lot of time — especially now, when it takes more than ever to meet the challenges that 21stt century teaching and learning present. We have a great faculty here that comes each and every day ready to make a difference. I truly believe that.”

As for his own success, McKenzie credits his brothers — who he said helped to motivate him along the way — and his wife, Donna, for her continued support.

“My wife has always been very supportive and looks at things in a positive way,” he said. “It’s been that way for 34 years. She’s very much an optimist. The hours are different here, but she’s accepted that and continues to be a positive role model and I admire her for it.”

McKenzie has two children, Katie and Luke, a daughter-in-law Adeana, and four grandchildren, Carleigh, Tyler, Champ and Lauren.

“I still enjoy getting up and coming to work,” he added. “You have those challenging days — I had them as an elementary teacher, as a middle school teacher, and now here — but I still look forward to coming to work and interacting with the faculty, staff and students. I feel privileged to have this job.”

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