Dr. Yvette Keel wants to give back to the community that has given her so much. The retired educator hopes to do this by winning the District 6 seat on the Liberty County Board of Education, vacated by Sampie Smith in February.
Keel is originally from Alabama and is the oldest of four daughters. She came to Hinesville in 1983 for a job opportunity after receiving a bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. She was hired as choir director at Bradwell Institute, under former Principal Gene Nesbitt. Keel also has master’s and doctorate degrees in administration and supervision.
Her intention was to stay a year in Hinesville, then find work closer to home. But she was immediately embraced by her colleagues and students, so she stayed. She was the choir director for 10 years and taught musical theater class. Keel became an assistant principal at the former Hinesville Middle School, Lewis Frasier Middle School and Waldo Pafford Elementary School.
“I had been raised that you give back. When you have the ability to help or to give back to something that has been good to you, then you take that opportunity. I see this position on the school board as my opportunity to give back to the community,” Keel said. “The most important thing is education and teachers feeling like they are supported and have the resources to provide a good education. That’s why I’m running.”
Keel said she will bring her educational experience, including in administration, to the board. She has helped write curriculum guides, worked with school finances, assessed and ordered textbooks, and has been through several accreditation evaluations. Keel said she has been keeping abreast of education issues. She is closely following the new teacher evaluation system and the Liberty County School System’s transition to a charter-school system.
“The school committees did interest me and how they will help run a school as a governance team. We have those already,” Keel said. “We’ve had those for years — school advisory councils. Those have already been in place, so I’m intrigued as to what’s the difference.”
Keel also talked about transparency and how tax dollars are spent.
“I know a lot of discussion is held in executive session, and we don’t hear a lot outside. I think you should be transparent and open. I’m not sure right now or for a long time that things have been transparent and open,” she said. “I do think that we don’t necessarily look at the best ways to spend our money. Are they truly the best ways to be spending money that’s being filtered into the classroom? That is one concern for me, money issues.”
When asked if she had any new program ideas, Keel responded, “No.”
“We don’t give things long enough to see if they’re going to work before jumping onto the next bandwagon,” she said. “Right now, the iPad initiative and charter school is enough. We need to get those things into place and see if they will be effective for us. It takes longer than a year to make those things happen and see the results.”
Keel feels that Liberty has a good school system. She is currently the state president of the Georgia Alpha Delta Kappa Honorary Organization for Women Educators, allowing her to visit different school systems.
“We are fortunate here. The technology that our students have at their fingertips is not the norm. There are smaller school systems that don’t even have textbooks. So we have many opportunities for our students,” Keel said. “Do I think we are where we need to be? I do not. I think that there are many things we need to focus on. We shouldn’t be happy with, ‘We met a standard.’ We need to exceed the standard.”
When Keel took her chorus students to competitions, she said other educators were impressed to learn where she worked.
“I didn’t realize the prestige that teaching at Bradwell and Liberty County had with it back at that time. I realized it was cool that people think I’m working in a great place and it’s where people want to be,” Keel said. “I think that going to football games with a packed house and people are there who are loyal to the community, it doesn’t exist here anymore or it’s minimal. I would like to see that again, the prestige in the school system. That would be my dream, for people to say, ‘Wow you’re in Liberty County.’”
For the first time, Liberty County feels like home for Keel, and she wants to give back.
“I think it’s important to be embedded in our community, and I think I’ve done that,” she said. “That’s what you do for your community, you step in when there is a need. That is the most important thing about me and what I bring to the table. I don’t take on something I know I can’t commit to 100 percent. I’m going to give 100 percent of what I got. I’m going to be committed.”
Keel is a mother of two. Her son is a recording-industry major at Middle Tennessee State University. Her stepdaughter is a paraprofessional for special-needs children in Brunswick. John “Bucky” Keel, her husband, is a Bradwell graduate and his father, Jack Keel, was a Liberty County probate judge. Her hobbies include crafting, painting, cross-stitch, beadwork, reading and walking. Keel has volunteered as a Cub Scout leader, former member of the Hinesville Library Board, pianist for children’s choir at First United Methodist Church and been a music director for vacation Bible schools, among other activities.