Aurora -- Jeffrey Keruski, the new principal at Henry Defer Intermediate School in Streetsboro, dropped out of high school at age 16 before turning his life around and becoming successful.

"Both of my parents, three brothers and one sister all quit school, and education wasn't valued in my home," said the Aurora resident.

At that point, his uncle -- Bill Freeman -- now a retired U.S. postmaster, helped him refocus his energies.

"He believed in me, told me he loved me and motivated me to be successful," Keruski said.

"He always pushed me to be the best I can be. He believed in my success and made me strive to be successful in everything I did. He changed the very way I looked at myself."

The Streetsboro School Board approved his two-year contract July 9. He will be paid $89,900 a year through July 31, 2017, according to school officials.

At age 19, Keruski earned his high school diploma, then earned degrees from State University of New York and the University of New England.

Ironically, he became a teacher and an administrator at Indian River Central School in Theresa, N.Y., the school he dropped out of.

Keruski was most recently a principal in the Cleveland city schools.

Former Defer principal Bill Basel resigned last week. He is facing charges for allegedly trying to solicit for sex an adult posing as a teen.

A spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office said computers were seized from Basel's home in Twinsburg. He was scheduled to go on trial July 27.

Keruski said his life's goal is "changing the hearts, minds and souls of everyone I encounter.

"I wrote that once I found a purpose for my life," he said. "My purpose as an educator and leader is to celebrate the fact that every child can and will make a difference, once they are supported and given purpose.

"ONCE YOU change the heart to believe, the mind will achieve and the person will be transformed."

Keruski said his goal at Defer supports his life message.

"I want to support the transformation of all that I encounter," he said. "I want my scholars to come to school daily with the desire to learn and create lifelong learning aspirations.

"For my teachers, I want the desire to design instruction that they are excited to teach and the scholars are excited to learn, and the joy of teaching to be shown in every aspect of the experience throughout the day."

Keruski's wife Melissa teaches technology and health at Maple Heights Middle School. They have four children -- Alaina, Joshua, Owen and Meredith.

After graduating from college, Keruski launched a successful, but ultimately unfulfilling career in sales.

"I was satisfied financially, but from a personal standpoint, I was empty," he said. "I found out my life's mission which was to educate children."

He started out writing curriculum, then became a substitute teacher, a teacher and an administrator.

He worked for the Cleveland schools as principal of entertainment and marketing at John F. Kennedy High School and, most recently, principal of Luis Munoz Marin School for grades K to 8.

Keruski said he created "a culture that embraces my life's message" at Luis Munoz Marin School.

"Once all parties believed in their hearts that education is important, they became receptive to change, allowing their minds to open to learning, teaching, and transforming the school," he said.

"We established value in everything we did. We celebrated successes, and the community became part of the school. Every person at the school is valued, including the community that supported the school."

Email: mlesko@rercordpub.com

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