Central Valley Academy Principal Dick Keeler has been selected as the 2023 New York State Secondary School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS). This award is given annually by SAANYS and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to a middle or high school principal who has set the pace, character, and quality of education for the students in his or her school. Nominees are administrators who are committed to students, parents, and the community and have shown exceptional contributions to the educational process.
Among his many accomplishments, Keeler has focused on fostering a supportive and empowering environment for all students, regardless of their future ambitions. In particular, he noticed the struggles that many freshmen experience during their transition to high school. Keeler established a Freshman Seminar program the purpose of which "is to help students develop a sense of belonging to the academic community and to foster the intellectual skills and self-confidence necessary for academic success through person relationships as well as self-actualization."
He also worked to increase course offerings that provided all students’ opportunities to take classes that were aligned with their future ambitions. Increasing AP and College Now offerings, adding a Health Science Pathway, a Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) program, as well as increasing opportunities for students to learn trades, are some of the ways CVA was able to accomplish this.
Strong support from CV staff and community
Barringer Road Elementary principal Aaron Carey said, "Mr. Keeler is an outstanding leader who is highly respected within our school district and within the region. His dedication to the students, staff, and community are unparalleled."
2022 CVA graduate Emma Wheet, whose Advanced Placement Capstone project on therapy dogs was later implemented at the school, commented that, "Mr. Keeler helped me throughout my whole research project process for my AP Capstone project. He made my research paper become a reality that I never thought would take flight in our own district, but he supported me every step of the way."
CVA teacher Jonna Costin said, "Mr. Keeler promotes equity in our building by modeling equity for his students. He gives our students a voice and will always listen to concerns and then try to find solutions."
After mourning the loss of two students to suicide in six years, Keeler realized he needed to place the mental health of students as a top priority at Central Valley Academy.
"Losing students to suicide makes you reevaluate and question everything you do as an administrator." he said.
To that end, throughout the year, he has built in half days as mental health days and has worked to normalize conversations surrounding mental health. He is a longtime supporter of the Mott Marathon where seniors raise money for a specific cause. In June 2022, the event was held in memory of the students lost to suicide and became a full-day event with over 25 different vendors providing mental health information to students, as well as a seminar by a teen mental health specialist.
Parent Pattie Day noted, "While counselors were brought in, Mr. Keeler is the one who more students looked to for help, support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a hug when needed, from someone they respect, who's heart was broken along with theirs."
Superintendent Jeremy Rich said "Mr. Keeler works hard to foster a family-oriented culture in his building that is built on trust, integrity, and honesty. The culture he has created is one that certainly fosters the emotional well-being of all involved."
Keeler received his Associate of Science from Herkimer County Community College, Bachelor of Science from Utica College of Syracuse University, and his Master of Science from the University at Albany.
As the NYS Secondary School Principal of the Year, Keeler is now a candidate for the award of National Principal of the Year, an award sponsored by NASSP.