MYSTIC — Greg Keith has been coming full circle his whole life, in a multitude of ways.
Geographically, he has circled the globe as a professional basketball player. And he’s worked in a large sphere of southeastern Connecticut towns, including Stonington, Ledyard, Lisbon and Oakdale. Adding to the overlapping circles, he grew up in Preston, where he lives with his family, and attended high school at Norwich Free Academy.
This summer, Keith, 50, who is the principal of Mystic Middle School, will add another town to his educational sphere — Franklin, where he’ll take over as principal of Franklin Elementary School.
“Now I get to go back to be with the people I started with,” Keith said of his new job on Thursday at his office. “It’s not only going home geographically, it’s also going home to be with people I started my career with, people who got me into the grad school programs. Huge friendships are already there. They’ve been with me along.”
At 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Keith played basketball at Wake Forest University and then at Fairfield University, where he graduated as a communications major.
The year after college, he played professional basketball in Vitoria de Setubal, Portugal, and then did a world tour with the Washington Generals, who play games against the Harlem Globetrotters. The team circled the globe, playing 220 games in one year.
“I was able to travel in 13 European countries, the Caribbean, all across Canada, all across the United States, I did some of the Far East and Asia, some in South America,” he said.
When he got back, he played in some semi-pro leagues and tried out with the San Antonio Spurs, but some foot injuries led him to rethink his career direction.
“I decided to go back to school to become a teacher,” he said. “I took an internship at Lisbon Central School and was there for two years as a student teacher.”
It was there he met his wife, Jill, who was a secretary at Sacred Heart University, where Keith was getting his masters in teaching. He got his first teaching job at Saint Thomas More School in Oakdale in 1994.
In 1997, Keith took a position as a teacher at Deans Mill Elementary School, and from 1999 to 2010, he taught at Mystic Middle School.
Behind the scenes in 2008, he earned his certification in educational leadership and administration at Sacred Heart. In the 2010-11 school year, he became dean of students for Pawcatuck Middle School and Mystic Middle School. Then, in 2011-12, he took a position as principal of Ledyard Elementary School and was principal of Ledyard Middle School from 2012-14.
Circling back to Stonington in September 2014, Keith was named principal of Mystic Middle School, a position he said he will miss.
“I came back because I missed the community, the parents and the kids,” he said. “It’s been a great four years and I’ll miss the people that I taught with and the administrative people I’ve served with.”
Working in Franklin will mean a shorter commute, and also the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
“It’s 18 minutes door-to-door, and my kids are right in the middle of that commute, so they’ll be ten minutes from me at school,” he said. “It will be more convenient for me to attend my kids’ school events back and forth because there will be nighttime commitments at school and nighttime commitments with my kids and they’ll all be in the same area.”
Keith and his wife have four children. Tyler is a senior at UConn, Carsen is a junior at Norwich Free Academy and Evan is in seventh grade. Earlier this year, the Keith family suffered the loss of Madisen, the second-oldest child, after a long illness.
Keith said he’s looking forward to starting at his new school, where he plans to use his years of experience as teacher and administrator.
“I hope I can bring the positives of the two districts where I’ve worked to that environment as well, but I want to make sure I maintain their traditions and their goals while incorporating those things I’ve learned over the past eight years as a school administrator,” he said.
He also said Stonington’s 2019 middle school consolidation will be a positive change for the students.
“Because the district is getting smaller, having more adults at Mystic Middle School will provide more opportunities for students, it really will,” he said. “It’s exciting, there will be more things for kids to do academically and extracurricularly, and socially having the kids come together in the same town before high school will be healthy for everybody.”
As far as advice for aspiring school principals, Keith said interaction with the students, teachers and parents was essential.
“I think being part of the community and being as visible as possible [is key],” he said. “I think that’s a big part of it, to be in the halls, as opposed to behind your desk, be at community events when you possibly can.”
Going back to where he started will connect yet another circle in his life, Keith said.
“It is a kind of homecoming,” he said. “Now I get to take the next step and go back closer to home.”