Jamelle S. Wilson rose through the ranks of Hanover County Public Schools, from an English teacher in 1991 to the district's first African-American and female superintendent in 2011.
Under her leadership, Hanover's on-time graduation rate increased from 94.9 percent in 2011 to 96.2 percent last year, the highest among districts in the state with more than 15,000 students.
This past June, Wilson left the school system to become dean of the University of Richmond's School of Professional and Continuing Studies, an opportunity she saw as a natural progression of her career and family history.
Wilson earned her master's and doctoral degrees while working full time, so she said she understands the needs and experiences of her new set of students. Her mother attended Germanna Community College while working full time, and her grandmother continued her education in her 60s.
"It's really a part of who we are," she said. "I haven't forgotten what it felt like. ... It resonates with me."
Yet she couldn't stay away from "the little ones" on what would have been her first time in 24 years not being in a public school on the first day of school. So she volunteered at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, giving clerical help to teachers, directing parents and children to classrooms — and even tying a shoe.
Wilson also has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and UR. She was named the 2015 Region I Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents out of 15 school districts and received the 2014 Outstanding Woman Award in Education from the YWCA of Richmond.
One of the last projects Wilson oversaw in Hanover schools was planning for a regional summer governor's school for career and technical education. It seems only fitting she continue enriching lives and careers for adult continuing education, she said.
"We in Hanover are good at creating a sense of family," she said. "And that's what I find here."
IN HER WORDS
I actually have lots of favorites, so this is a difficult question: "The Imitation of Life," "The Shawshank Redemption," "It’s a Wonderful Life," "The Devil Wears Prada." Perhaps my absolute favorite is "The Godfather" trilogy. Each of these movies portrays the main characters’ struggle to find or hold onto their own identities in the face of some societal stigma or family expectation. These are struggles we all face, and seeing the evolution of these characters as they come to grips with who they are as individuals is powerful for me.
Something you’d like to do
I’d like to — if I weren’t afraid of heights — I’d love to sky-dive. Maybe one day I’ll conquer that fear.
Alternate profession or course of study
I think I’d like to do something with landscape design or interior design. I enjoy the process of being creative, of moving from an idea to a product or a feeling. And I don’t mind getting my hands dirty; in fact, I enjoy building and digging in the dirt.
A small moment in life with a big impact
Recently I learned that a former colleague who passed away requested that I speak at his memorial service. The impact of this for me is affirmation that we never know how our actions or words affect others. I am honored to know that I poured meaningfully into his life. My goal each day is to be a better person, wife, mother, friend and employee than I was the day before.
Something that might surprise others
I’m a natural introvert. Though I wouldn’t describe myself as shy, I crave having time by myself, not talking to anyone, no noise, nothing. I just like to be. Quiet time energizes me. Interestingly my career path and service roles don’t allow me much of that introversion, so I work to find times and ways to satisfy that need. Working in my yard provides that peace as an example. Many people know me from the various roles in which I’ve served that have put me out front. They don’t know that being out front is not my natural state of comfort.
I’m so proud of my family — my husband and two sons — and the relationship we share. I have had the opportunity to have an amazing career, have served on numerous boards, and I’ve traveled around the world. My husband has always supported those opportunities and my desire to do my work well. He has served as a role model for my boys, who also support their mom. At the end of the day, though, none of them really cares that others know me as “Dr. Wilson,” “Dean,” “Superintendent,” “Board Chair” or “IB Board member.” They know and love me as wife and mom. I’m very proud of that.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
The Richmond region is becoming increasingly more diverse in its population. Diverse in the traditional sense of race and ethnicity, but also diverse in terms of opportunities for living, working and playing; diverse in its thinking about issues and its place in the world; and diverse in our efforts to represent and embrace all members of our community. I see these efforts to value diversity in our schools, in our neighborhoods and in our regional activities. Certainly, there is work yet to be done, but the progress is encouraging.
JAMELLE S. WILSON
Position: dean, University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies
Born/hometown: July 20, 1968; Spotsylvania
College: University of Virginia (bachelor's in English, master's in teaching, doctorate in education in administration and supervision), Virginia Commonwealth University (master's in English)
Family: husband James, sons Miles and Grant