Teaching, Coaching, Mentoring, Leading – the Many Talents of Keino Terrell

Middle School Assistant Principal and English teacher Keino Terrell has been a beloved fixture at Friends’ Central for over 20 years; however, beginning this summer, he will be moving on to his next endeavor, as Director of Middle School at Germantown Friends School. 

Exploring Keino’s path to Friends’ Central, his approach to teaching, and his many roles at the School, it’s clear just how much of an impact he has had on our community. 

Before he’d even heard of Friends’ Central, Keino came across Friends’ Central Middle Schoolers in a class at Penn, where he was a student in the Graduate School of Education. Leif Gustavson, then a grade 7 Language Arts teacher, was invited by Keino’s professor and FCS parent Jane Hileman to bring his students and demonstrate how to engage kids with writing. “These kids came in with these brilliant portfolios and I thought, ‘Wow! They’re doing that much writing,’” said Keino.

Shortly after that, in 1997, Keino found himself taking over from Leif as grade 7 Language Arts Teacher at FCS. “I had no idea that I would actually replace Leif the next year at the same school!” 

Former Middle School Principal Ray DeSabato had contacted Jane Hileman to ask for the name of her strongest student, and unbeknownst to Keino, she put his name forward. She encouraged him to consider FCS despite the job offer he’d already accepted elsewhere. At Jane’s insistence, Keino took the interview and he “fell in love with the place on the visit.”

The push at Penn’s Graduate School of Education was more to public education, and that is where Keino presumed he would end up; he felt that was where he was most needed. “I did my student teaching at Simon Gratz,” he explained, “which was probably, at the time, one of the worst schools in the city – it was really different, but it was really challenging.” Former FCS science teacher Doug Ross encouraged Keino to consider the benefit he would similarly bring to many students at Friends’ Central.

“It would be hard to overestimate the impact that Keino’s had on Friends’ Central students and on the School as a whole.”

Alexa Dunnington Quinn ’98

Twenty-three years later, FCS is still benefiting from Keino’s incredible strengths as both an educator and a leader. He came in as a Language Arts teacher and became Diversity Director within his third year, while simultaneously teaching and coaching Upper School Varsity basketball. It was a tall order straddling so many roles, and it was also indicative of just how many talents Keino brought to the community.  

“It would be hard to overestimate the impact that Keino’s had on Friends’ Central students and on the School as a whole,” said Middle School Principal Alexa Dunnington Quinn ’98, reflecting on her colleague of 17 years. 

 “When I think about all the positions I’ve held here – teacher, coach, Diversity Director and Middle School Dean of Students among other administrative positions, and now as Assistant Principal – they’ve all been different, and it’s allowed me to see the School from so many different lenses. I wish that for other people,” said Keino.

“Part of what I’m most proud of here,” he continued, “is really driving and pushing the School to understand the position of Diversity Director in a different way. When I first started here, our schools were trying to figure out how those diversity positions were going to work; they were still in their infancy.” FCS has since hired a full-time Director of Equity and Multicultural Education, Erica Snowden, who will be joining the School this summer.  

Keino worked with Simone Gibson ’17 to bring the first Student Diversity Leadership Conference to the School in 2015. Entitled Different Voices, Same Vision, the conference, which has been held annually since 2015, is designed, according to its Mission Statement, “to bring independent and non-independent schools together in a safe setting where students learn from and have conversations with each other about diversity issues.” Under Keino’s mentorship, Simone was awarded the Princeton Prize for Race Relations and the Widener Leadership Prize in recognition of this important work. 

Keino also spearheaded the Middle School’s affinity group program, explained Alexa Quinn. (Middle School students participate in affinity groups based on particular aspects of their identity, such as gender or religion. Affinity groups meet once per month, led by a faculty advisor and two student leaders, to discuss some of the challenges and rewards that come with that particular identity.) “We’re in – I believe – year nine of having affinity groups in the Middle School, and now you see a lot of schools that have affinity groups. That was not the case nine years ago. We were ahead of the curve, and that was due to Keino – his passion and his influence on our programming.” 

Other important contributions Keino has made to the Middle School include starting and maintaining Students of Culture, which not only acts as a student group to engage with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion but has also been a structure used to develop student leaders; changing the structure of the culminating 8th Grade Showcase to individual projects that allow each student a moment to shine; and creating a Meeting for Leaving Ceremony that celebrates each 8th grader.

“Keino’s a wonderful administrator; he is able to keep all the balls in the air and get things done,” said Alexa, “but what really stands out to me is his deep and genuine caring about kids. He uses the phrase, ‘Students need to know that you’re for them,’ and he has always worked really hard to make sure kids know that he’s for them, even when kids have made big mistakes or missteps. He makes sure students understand that they are not defined by their imperfections or their mistakes, and I think students truly feel and appreciate that. He’s also been wonderful about helping students to navigate all of the personal identity and friendship work that happens in Middle School.”

When asked what drew him to and kept him working in the Middle School, Keino responded, “The cognitive growth in the middle school years is enormous. Research tells us that the only timeframe that surpasses that is birth through age two. To me, that’s a great opportunity – think about the impact you can have! Think about how you can engage them! The other thing is that middle school kids are so inquisitive; they want to learn, they’re not turned off to school, they are embracing the process and the journey of learning. And then they’re just fun – they’re so silly – I think that keeps you young! You’re engaging with them in so many different ways that makes it full of joy, and that’s important. If you’re going to stay in Middle School, you’d better love it! I think, after a while, you just know if you’re a middle school person; and I’m definitely a middle school person.”

Teaching hadn’t been Keino’s initial career plan. In early life, he had set out to be a sports commentator. He holds undergraduate majors in both English and Communications. Beginning at Shippensburg on a scholarship to play basketball, Keino ended up giving up the athletic scholarship after a couple of years and taking an academic scholarship instead. He found the athletic scholarship somewhat restrictive, but he also had a sense, he said, “even back then, that someone else might actually benefit from this athletic scholarship. I remember having that conversation with myself. I guess it was the start of thinking in terms of equity and justice and putting in perspective my own upbringing in a different way.”

In his final year in college, Keino had a professor who became ill. “And she went to her director and said, ‘I have a student who I think is capable of teaching my 100-level courses.’ So I was actually teaching college my senior undergraduate year!” This ignited in him a desire to teach. 

As a teacher, it’s fair to say that Keino has a reputation for having high expectations of his students. “We’re blessed to have students that can handle some structure and rigor,” he explained. And his perspective is that the students want it. “They want us to take away some of the guessing game and to say to them, ‘This is what you’re actually capable of.’ I’ve always had that approach to teaching, especially around writing. Of course, it’s not a one-size-fits-all for learners, but ultimately, I always find comfort in the fact that I get college kids who come back and tell me, ‘You know, I still use some of your writing lessons.’”

“He was my basketball coach and continues to be a mentor to this day. He made sure that we knew our value and gave us all someone to look up to. Seeing an African American man navigate our community the way that he did was inspiring and let me know that if basketball didn’t work out there are other avenues to success.” 

Mike Cook ’02

Alexa also shared that it’s a measure of the influence that Keino’s had on students – as both a teacher and coach – that so many of them, once graduated, stay connected with him. Among those graduates is FCS Assistant Director of Admission and Athletic Specialist Mike Cook ’02. “There aren’t enough words to describe Keino’s impact on my life,” said Mike. “He was my basketball coach and continues to be a mentor to this day. He made sure that we knew our value and gave us all someone to look up to. Seeing an African American man navigate our community the way that he did was inspiring and let me know that if basketball didn’t work out there are other avenues to success.” 

For the last five years, Keino has been earning a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Temple University. “More importantly,” he explained, “I have done a lot of research concerning how marginalized students build social capital. I have used this to serve students and this community in myriad ways. My dissertation topic, which I will defend in the fall, looks at how perceived racial incidents impact teachers of color retention in independent schools. This work has been fascinating, and I have been humbled by the stories of so many through this method of qualitative research. I look forward to publishing these findings in the near future to better serve our communities.”

The profound impact Keino has had on FCS over so many years will continue to be felt in countless ways by the School and its community. We wish him all the best as he transitions to his new role. “I am so grateful to Keino for his impact on our school,” said Alexa, “and I know that he will continue to care very deeply about Friends’ Central and all of the people in it.”

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