Suffolk native returns home

Published 11:17 pm Friday, January 28, 2011

After beginning her life in Suffolk, graduating from Forest Glen High School and pursuing a career in Georgia, Jacqueline Colander Chavis has returned home to give back to the community that has given so much to her.

Chavis, the new deputy superintendent for Suffolk Public Schools, began her journey in the Saratoga section of Suffolk. During her formative years, Chavis was inspired by teachers who made great sacrifices to make sure their students were successful.

New position: Jacqueline Chavis, the new deputy superintendent and Suffolk native, poses at her desk. Chavis is glad to be home where she can make a difference in the community that taught her so much.

“It was evident that the teachers loved what they did and went beyond the call of duty to make us successful,” she said.

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Growing up in the Suffolk community and in Suffolk schools, Chavis learned the importance of education, good work habits and strong study skills. These lessons were instilled at home and reinforced in school and in her tight-knit community.

She graduated from Forest Glen High School in 1983 and went on to study biology at Hampton University.

Chavis initially intended to become an obstetrician. It was not until her junior year of college that she became interested in teaching through a tragedy that altered her plans.

Chavis’ father passed away when she was in college, and she took time off to grieve and spend time with her widowed mother. While at home, she began substitute teaching, which formed an interest in education as a career.

“I have no regrets,” Chavis said. “I strongly believe this was my calling. My responsibility and role in society is to proceed in any capacity I can to improve education.”

Chavis finished her degree at Hampton University and incorporated education into her master’s degree coursework. But her education didn’t end there.

She also earned her administrative leadership degree from Cambridge College and now is working toward a doctoral degree in education online at Capella University.

In 1989, Chavis began teaching for Norfolk Public Schools, working at Norview Middle School for three years before becoming the science teaching specialist for Norfolk Public Schools.

She sought opportunities to continue growing in her career with Norfolk Public Schools, serving as an assistant principal and advancing to the position of principal. She even opened the School of International Studies at Meadowbrooke.

In 2005, the former superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools, who had moved to Savannah, Ga., asked Chavis to serve as the chief academic officer there.

“I thought it was a very good career move,” she said. “It was a good way to spread my wings a little bit and leave home.”

Chavis said she is glad she made the move because her position in Savannah prepared for the move back to Virginia and her current position.

As deputy superintendent in Suffolk Public Schools, Chavis is responsible for academics in areas like curriculum and instruction, student services, social work, counseling, student hearings, federal programs, professional development, gifted programs and special education.

Her responsibilities as chief academic officer in Savannah — a school system twice the size of Suffolk’s — were very similar.

There, she worked toward lowering the dropout rate and raising graduation rates. She plans to focus on similar goals in the Suffolk school system.

“My interests overall are in helping to shape the lives of children in a positive way, which in turn impacts the community in a positive way and strengthens the family,” Chavis said.

“I want to make decisions that will impact the future of students in a positive way.”

Inspired by her mother, Chavis is determined to work hard and to impact the school system and Suffolk in a positive way.

“Even now, she gives so much of herself to others,” Chavis said, explaining that her mother takes meals to people and buys groceries for friends who can’t get out to shop.

Chavis says that her mother also inspired her work ethic.

“Even as a widow, she never missed a beat,” Chavis said. “She is very active in the community. I see her and it inspires me.”

Chavis said her homecoming has been a joyous one.

“People have been great here,” she said. “They have been warm and receptive. It’s nice to be back home with family and friends that I haven’t seen in a while.”

“I saw the job as an opportunity to give back, and in return I could also be back with friends and family,” she said.