Former school principal and CC resident Tashon McKeithan, running for the open position on the Culver City School Board, celebrated the launch of her campaign on August 4, 2018, in school board member Kelly Kent, Ph.D.’s garden.
A group of about 60 supporters and residents gathered, including Culver City Mayor Thomas Small, Culver City Vice Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, Culver City Councilmember Daniel Lee, and former Los Angeles City Controller Rick Tuttle (Culver City Councilmember Alex Fisch was out of town and unable to come, and sent his regrets).
Kent welcomed the guests and said she was deeply impressed by McKeithan’s candor, expertise, and dedication. Kent said, “What Tashon brings to her candidacy is a level of evidence-based insight and understanding that no other sitting board member or candidate has…she talked with me about the research she had done on CCUSD…And here’s where I got the chills. CCUSD is an excellent school district and Tashon said so. Using our own data, she cited exactly where we are strong and exactly where we are weak. She did not shy away from talking about our achievement gap.”
Kent has long advocated for Culver City schools to do more to close achievement gaps and to meet the needs of African-American students, students from financially challenged families, English language learners, and students with special needs and disabilities.
Kent emphasized that voters should not elect someone who is merely a “cheerleader,” but a leader “unafraid of the truth” who will push us to be “radically better.” “[McKeithan] is here to change the data, folks. She didn’t sit down and say, ‘These are similar numbers to every district in the state and across the nation.’ She didn’t say, ‘We aren’t any worse on state-testing that other districts.’ Instead, she said, ‘those numbers are unacceptable and they can absolutely be fixed.’”
McKeithan’s husband-of-20-years, Henry Miller, discussed her background in education; the couple met as students at Williams College in Massachusetts. While majoring in economics and sociology, McKeithan worked and volunteered as an educator, where she discovered her professional passion. After graduation, McKeithan joined Teach for America as a teacher and completed her M.A. at Bank Street College of Education She was accepted into the New York Leadership Academy which fast-tracks individuals to become school principals.
McKeithan became principal at Mother Hale Academy (Public School 65) in the Bronx, where she brought in a computer lab, installed an organic garden, implemented an inquiry-based science curriculum, and worked with ArtsConnection to offer projects that foster student creativity.
McKeithan and her family moved to Southern California where she got her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership at CSU Fullerton, and she was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in Education. She received honors including the prestigious Annenberg Award for supporting the arts in schools, and she has served on the board of the California Teacher Development Collaborative.
McKeithan says she thought about discussing some of the questions she finds compelling; about school culture and teaching practices, whether our schools truly teach the whole child, whether our district is spending its money in alignment with our values and about why, in such a diverse school district, we are still struggling with segregation. But decided to tell her own story instead: “As someone who has been an educator for the past 20 years, I know that to connect with people, you have to understand their stories.”
Raised by her paternal grandparents in Queens, her grandfather was a janitor at a school during the day, and worked a second job — at a hospital — until 11 p.m. Her grandmother was a food-service worker at a school cafeteria. Her grandfather, she says, was functionally illiterate, and her grandmother lacked opportunities for much formal schooling either, but both were fiercely supportive of their children’s and grandchildren’s educations.
When McKeithan’s parents, still high school students, announced that they were expecting, her grandparents immediately offered to raise their grandchild. The love and structure her grandparents provided for McKeithan during her childhood was essential to her drive for education.
McKeithan was the first in her family to attend college and ascribes the thirst for learning to support and mentoring in primary and secondary school. She cites a high school teacher who helps her negotiate the college-application process. She started working in the New York City school system when arts programs were being eliminated in favor of test-preparation program — a trend she decried.
She says her understanding of the power of collaboration, compelled her to approach her alma mater, Bank Street College of Education, to create a partnership with her school. She also pursued Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as an additional educational partner. When hired as the principal of P.S. 65, 25% of the students met the criteria for special education, including children with emotional disturbances, so to help them feel a sense of belonging, she created a steel-drum orchestra which fostered engagement with not only students, but their families, the school, and community.
McKeithan told the story of Samantha, a student about to attempt third grade for the third time. She saw how discouraged and disconnected Samantha was from school and met with her in her office.
Something in Samantha’s expression encouraged McKeithan to ask the girl, “What do you love?”
The response was instant and animated: “Dancing!”
McKeithan arranged for Samantha to enroll in a dance camp, and drove her there when she couldn’t get transportation. Eventually, McKeithan saw Samantha perform at Columbia University, and post-show, Samantha gave her a hug, and said, “I did it!” McKeithan says she will never forget the pure joy of accomplishment on Samantha’s face. It inspired her to strive for a positive impact on children, families, and our community.
For information about Tashon McKeithan’s campaign, visit:
Voters will elect three members to the Governing Board of the Culver City Unified School District on November 6, 2018, as part of the General Election.