A school like Academic and Behavioral School West (ABS West) needs more than an authority figure in a principal. It needs someone who champions its students’ and employees’ success—someone like Victor Keys.
“I tell a lot of people I would do this job for nothing, [but] my daughter and my wife said I need gas money,” he said with a grin. “This job is really something that I take to heart. It’s not a job to me. It’s more like a passion and mission.”
A military veteran and former deputy sheriff, Keys says he always knew he wanted to teach. Even in the military, he found himself mentoring individuals. Though he had not anticipated where education would lead him, he says he loves being a principal and is profoundly grateful to be at ABS West.
“These youngsters need somebody that’s going to care for them and help them grow and mature, and teach them to be successful not only as students but as productive citizens,” said Keys. “I want us to be the best at what it is that we do. I want to make sure my teachers and staff members are fully trained to be successful so, when people think about students with challenging behaviors, the first thing that comes to mind is ABS West.”
Keys is always moving on his campus where situations can arise quickly, and he relies on his staff’s ability to deescalate students. He looks for certain qualities in prospective employees, such as an “even keel,” but most importantly, they must love working with young people.
“Not everybody can do this; only a chosen few,” he said. “Those who really excel at what we do here are special people.”
ABS West employees say one of the greatest things about working for their principal is feeling appreciated and valued.
“He says every day, ‘Without you, there is no us,’ and he means that,” said Educational Aide Davietta Ford.
Keys supports his staff in many ways. He’s the first person to arrive in the mornings, after facilities staff, and the last to leave at night. Assistant Principal Gaylynn Sanders remarks how his compassion and great sense of humor bring much-needed energy.
“Working in a school like ours, we have to have humor,” said Sanders. “We need that support, and Dr. Keys is always there to support us.”
The principal’s care is felt by students as well. Keys connects with each student by asking them about their day or even what they had for dinner and stops by each classroom every day to say good morning. By many accounts, his care for his students and staff extends beyond school hours. When employees are sick, they say they can expect a call from Keys just to see how they’re feeling. He also often takes parents’ phone calls as late as 10 p.m.
Though ABS West’s goal is to prepare students to be successful in their home schools and in life after they leave, it comes as no surprise that some say they want to stay. When asked how he feels to be a part of such a mission, he replies with only humble gratitude.
“I’m truly blessed to be here. I thank God for this opportunity. This place, this organization, these students—they’re priceless.”