When Dr. Robyn Killebrew took over as principal of Mississippi’s Pass Christian High School (PCHS) in 2014, she noticed that incoming freshmen tended to stumble as they moved to high school. Her solution: Pass Christian’s Freshman Academy, a program specifically designed to help smooth the transition from middle school to ninth grade. Killebrew meets with the incoming freshmen herself, encouraging them to become part of the Pass Christian family by joining an athletic team, club or academic organization during their high school years. Since the program launched, Pass Christian’s graduation rate has risen to over 90%. Killebrew also created an ACT “boot camp” to prepare students for the standardized college test; she knows many Pass Christian families depend on college scholarships and reminds students that ACT points equal “college dollars.” Scores on every area of the test, and the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in all four testing areas has risen from 17% to 27%.
A former basketball, softball and volleyball coach, Killebrew takes a team approach to managing both students and staff. She believes that students will rise to the loftiest of expectations when a caring and encouraging adult is in their court and believes in them—even if the students don’t yet have the confidence to believe in themselves. Killebrew is known as an excellent instructional leader who motivates teachers to adopt a growth mindset and make sure students achieve their academic goals. She loves data: During a staff development day, Killebrew showed Pass Christian teachers how to read and interpret the state’s accountability model, then encouraged them to turn around and share that with students to help them understand their progress and how factors like attendance affect their learning. Pass Christian has won many awards, including the state education department’s Value Added Award and the school consistently ranks among the top school districts in the state.
Killebrew is described as a “whatever it takes” leader. When a school bus couldn’t finish its run, Killebrew jumped behind the wheel; when students wanted to help nearby Baton Rouge after massive floods, she drove them there herself. Killebrew attends sporting events, band and cheer competitions, art exhibitions, car washes, golf tournaments and recitals as both administrator and number one fan. Each month she invites community members in for “Pastries with the Principal” to share what’s happening at PCHS and how students are doing. Killebrew has been known to show up at the home of at-risk students to convince them to stick it out until graduation and serves on the district superintendent’s Key Leadership team. Killebrew’s mother has taught for four decades; “Coach K,” as students call the principal, says she plans to smash that record.
Killebrew earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from William Carey University in 2003. She also holds a master’s in sports administration (2005) and a Ph.D in educational leadership and administration (2016) from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Press release: 'Whatever it takes' Principal Robyn Killebrew earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award
"Our students know I couldn’t do what I do without them, so it was exciting to be able to celebrate together. I think the experience..." (read more)