When Genae Keyes first moved to Mississippi, she joined AmeriCorps - a nationwide organization dedicated to improving lives, strengthening communities and fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering - which began the foundation of her path of education and helping children.
That soon blossomed into much more, with Keyes first becoming a tutor, a teacher, and now her latest role: the new assistant principal at Petal Middle School. Her appointment, which officially began July 1, was approved June 8 by the Petal School District Board of Trustees.
“It feels unreal, but great - I’m really honored,” Keyes said. “It actually came as a surprise; I knew it would come, but I thought it would take a little more time. I thought maybe I’d go through a couple interviews, and in the next year or two, then I’d land the job.
“When it came so suddenly, I was surprised, but it was just that time. God has a way of opening doors that we can’t close.”
Keyes takes over for former assistant principal Sandy Hampton - who took a position with another school district - and serves under principal Tyler Watkins. Since the beginning of July, Keyes has lent a hand particularly in the field of fixed assets, which are items that may be purchased for long-term use and are not likely to be converted quickly into cash, such as land, buildings or equipment.
“It’s all coming together,” Keyes said. “Just being able to work with Mr. Watkins one-on-one, he’s been very supportive in showing me many, many things that are coming.
"We’ve worked together since Day One; since before my contract even started, I’ve been here working with Mr. Watkins. I’m just trying to make sure, moving forward, that we’re both on the same page and doing what’s best for Petal Middle School.”
Keyes is a three-time graduate of William Carey University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master of Education in Mid to Moderate Disabilities and a Specialist in Education. She served in AmeriCorps for two years, and was voted Team Leader of the Year in 2011.
Keyes began her education career in 2014 as a fourth and fifth grade special education teacher at Dixie Attendance Center. She joined Petal Upper Elementary School in 2016, where she chaired the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team and led one of its Professional Learning Communities for four years.
“I was in special education, so working with the different students with different disabilities - and non-disabled students - has really given me a diverse experience,” Keyes said. “And I love talking to the parents … and working with the team we have, it’s just been amazing.
“The experience that I’ve gained working under my previous principal (at the upper elementary), Mrs. Emily Branch, has been amazing. She took me under her wing and showed me different procedures, and explained things that were taking place in the school system. Especially after I got my specialist (degree), she was a great role model."
Before taking over as assistant principal at Petal Middle School, Keyes served as a behavioral resource teacher at Petal Upper Elementary School for the past five years.
“My passion comes just because I love children,” she said. “I love when that light bulb clicks on, and they grasp and comprehend what has been explained to them, and the joy they have when they understand it.
“Just being that person to guide them through, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s been a long journey, but it’s been one that I have enjoyed thoroughly.”
Watkins, who took over as principal at the middle school in July 2020, said Keyes is an excellent addition to the team.
“She brings with her a wealth of content knowledge across all disciplines and is an expert in the field of special education,” Watkins said. “I am excited about working with her and can’t wait to see what she brings to the students and teachers at Petal Middle School.”