During a lengthy career as a teacher, principal, central-office administrator and ultimately a district superintendent, Keith Bell often preached to students that learning is a lifelong pursuit.
Bell worked in six districts, almost all in central Ohio schools since starting as a high-school marketing teacher in Grove City in 1979. After retiring in 2016 from his last educational post, as superintendent of Euclid City Schools near Cleveland, Bell thought it was time to live up to the expectations he always had for his students to continue learning.
“I wanted to model that,” Bell said. “I wanted, when I got toward the end of my career, to model everything that I told them.”
So Bell, 62, went back to school to receive his doctoral degree in education. When he receives it from Ohio State University on Dec. 16, he will be the second oldest doctoral student at the commencement, according to the university, which could not immediately identify the oldest.
Now it’s time to celebrate — and all of Bell’s former students and colleagues are invited.
Bell has rented a ballroom at The Ohio Union for Dec. 15 from 7 to 11 p.m., and has been putting out the word on social media, through emails and word of mouth that he’s having a graduation party.
How many people are coming?
“I have no idea,” Bell said. “There’s no RSVP. There’s no nothing. The place can hold up to 200, so I’m assuming it may be close to that.”
There’s no charge, but Bell is asking guests to make a donation to any of the six school districts in which he worked: Columbus, Westerville, Groveport, Gahanna, Grove City and Euclid.
The money will be invested in educational programming, he said. Bell’s dissertation research was on college admission rates of first-year black male students, and he hopes to work with OSU on ways to improve enrollment of black males. The university couldn’t immediately say how old the oldest doctoral student graduating this month is.
“I’ve already completed a career and done a lot of other things, but one thing I wanted to do was to give back to the students,” Bell said. “I thought it’s the best way for me to celebrate my doctoral.
Bell was deputy superintendent at Columbus City Schools from 2010 and 2012. A state auditor’s investigation said that when Bell brought evidence of data-altering and attendance cheating to his then-boss, former Superintendent Gene Harris, she took away all of his job responsibilities and told him to resign. He later left for the post in Euclid, and was a finalist for Columbus superintendent earlier this year.
“I don’t want to do the typical. When you go to some of these things, the emphasis is on the person. I wanted to be the conduit to bring people together. I’ll say very little, because I want this to be about kids. I’m trying to get representation from each one of my schools. There will be a time for them to speak about the value of an education.
“And then it’s music and dancing, and just celebrating.”