Voice of Bay Schools retires
As schools across the country embark on a new year filled with uncertainty, the Bay Village City Schools will do so without their trusted spokesperson at the helm. After more than 20 years with the district, Karen Derby-Lovell retired from her post as Director of Communications on Aug. 1.
After years in marketing for BP and as a correspondent for the Plain Dealer, Karen went to work as the part-time communications coordinator for Westlake Schools. She pursued a master’s degree in communications to pair with her business degree, and was hired for Bay’s full-time job in 1999.
Karen joined Bay Schools at a time when controversy was brewing. A bond issue to construct the new middle school had just been rejected by voters for the second time. It was now her job to convince the community that a new school was needed.
The hard work paid off, and the bond issue passed. That early experience was a memorable one that Karen recalled in a conversation with the Observer.
“Working with community members to inform residents about why a new middle school was required was certainly a highlight. Then seeing the old building come down and the new one go up was pretty emotional. We had committees for everything from building art, to a time capsule, to a grand opening. It was exciting,” she said.
It was also something of a turning point in the relationship between the district and the community. Since then, Bay voters have approved every bond issue and levy that the schools have proposed.
“We’ve enjoyed consistent community support, and that is no small thing,” Karen said. “The Bay Village school district is really a center of the community. So many residents stay involved long after their children graduate.”
Open communication and transparency are key to building trust with the community, which has been a priority for the district. Karen has executed that plan through three superintendents – Denny Woods, Clint Keener and Jodie Hausmann. She helped ease the transition for each of the district’s new leaders.
“From the beginning, Karen amazed me with her intellect, sharp wit, ability to decipher the story behind the action, and most importantly, always having an accurate pulse of the Bay Village community, making her essential to a successful transition,” Jodie Hausmann commented to members of the school board. “When it became apparent that safety would be a priority based on my listening and learning tour, Karen embraced leading this initiative because communication and transparency was essential to the success of it.”
Karen was instrumental in the current strategic planning process that combines data from the schools with input from more than 100 community stakeholders to help the district best prepare students for future success. She also managed the Bay Schools social media accounts; produced videos featuring students, faculty and administration members; created newsletters; and wrote countless articles for the Observer and other publications.
While Karen won’t be around for the upcoming challenges posed by the pandemic, she expressed confidence that the district can handle it.
“Bay Village Schools will do as well or better than any district navigating through the virus challenges,” Karen remarked. “The meticulous planning by our superintendent and administration is as good as it gets. This is a tough situation, and they have mitigated the risks to the greatest degree possible, I think.”
Karen’s travel plans for retirement will likely have to wait until the virus plays out, though she is looking forward to reconnecting with some hobbies and spending time with her family. She has a daughter in California and her son’s family – including her 5-year-old granddaughter – have recently moved back to the area.
As Karen wrapped up her final week on the job, she looked back with admiration for the district that she gave voice to for two decades.
“The teachers are amazing and inspire me,” Karen said. “But I am just bowled over by our students – their leadership and how mature, caring and accomplished they are at such a young age. When people gripe about the younger generation, I tell them they should see those kids in Bay Village. They give me hope for the future.”