Superintendent, Lynchburg City Schools

Lynchburg Business Editor Shelley Basinger: Crystal, you joined the Lynchburg City Schools family in 2018. Tell us about your career prior to coming to Lynchburg
Crystal Edwards: I came here from a school division in New Jersey where I was a superintendent for seven years and assistant superintendent for five years. Before taking on the job as assistant superintendent, I was a supervisor/director of math and science for five years, and a high school science teacher for 14 years. During the summers, I participated in several teacher internships at local colleges and worked for several pharmaceutical companies. I am now into my 33rd year of education.

SB: Why did you pursue the role of Lynchburg’s superintendent?
CE: I had spent my entire life in New Jersey and wanted to explore other parts of the country. My in-laws live in North Carolina, and we were looking to relocate closer to them. After researching several jobs in both North Carolina and South Carolina, I discovered Lynchburg. I found the diversity of Lynchburg and the community support for the schools to be appealing. I watched many of the division-made videos that highlighted student accomplishments in academics, arts, athletics, and community services, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Lynchburg family.

SB: The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented scenario for educators. What was it like to take on such a challenge?
CE: The stakes are higher when you have to make educational decisions based on a public health crisis. There was nothing in my training that prepared me for this and, like many of my veteran teachers, I felt like I was a first-year superintendent. Fortunately, I have a fantastic team and have worked collaboratively with many partners to make the best decisions for our students. But it’s still challenging to balance educational needs against health and safety needs.

SB: But do you feel as though all of this has strengthened you as a leader?
CE: Absolutely. The pandemic has forced all of us to react and respond quickly. I’ve learned new ways to mobilize teams of people and help them work together to craft COVID-19 response plans. The strength of my leadership can be seen by the many LCS leaders who emerged during this pandemic. We “checked our titles at the door” and truly embraced our motto this year: #LeadWithCare.

SB: What do you believe have been your greatest accomplishments so far as superintendent?
CE: I really can’t take credit for many of our greatest accomplishments since our success depends on the contributions of many leaders. If anything, I am most pleased with the level of advocacy that our school board, staff, and students have shown. Our staff has been selected to present at national conferences, serve on advisory boards, and lead new initiatives throughout Virginia. Our students routinely engage in community service projects as well as social justice, equity, and activist events. When they’re not advocating for their schools, they are winning awards and recognition in the area of academics, cultural arts, and athletics.

Also, having served on the state’s African American History Education Commission, I’m excited about the proposed edits to the history standards, the focus on cultural competency and leadership for all educators, and the new African American History course that will soon be offered to all students.

SB: What is your long-term vision for Lynchburg City Schools?
CE: Opportunity. For our students, we want to give them opportunities and experiences that go beyond traditional education and fortify them for life. This includes creative coursework, career exploration, and enriching extracurricular activities. We want to include student voice and choice in course development and experiential learning. We want a working environment where our staff thrives. A start to creating thriving working conditions is to provide staff with competitive compensation, opportunities for growth and leadership, and ways to see themselves as a part of the long-term future of LCS. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, says, “We want to build schools where students and staff run to get in.” That’s what I want for LCS.

SB: How would you describe your leadership style?
CE: I consider myself to be a servant leader who takes a customer service approach to my work. I try to stay grounded and focus on what’s best for students, families and staff.

SB: How do you stay organized?
CE: An amazing executive assistant, a vision board, my Google calendar, and a small red “to do” book. I also try to plan my events and not oversubscribe myself if I can’t be fully invested.

SB: Do you have any go-to mantras that keep you going on long or tough days?
CE: Even when I feel defeated I try to find some positive aspect and simply say to myself: Take the win. Our motto this year is #LeadWithCare. That serves as a reminder of our guiding purpose during this pandemic. Finally, I find myself following Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”

SB: What’s life like for you outside of work?
CE: I enjoy spending time with my family, especially outdoors. Prior to COVID-19, my husband Brian and I enjoyed participating in half-marathons. While our times were not record-setting, we loved the sense of accomplishment when we crossed the finish line. I also enjoy riding my bike, hiking, and going for a long drive.