D. Preston Steele wants to help improve the Tribe through education – an appropriate goal for the newly appointed director of Education. He believes by motivating students to go further in their studies, the ultimate beneficiary will be the Seminole Tribe.
Other items on his radar include bringing culture into the learning environment, engaging students, and encouraging them to complete high school then continue to post-secondary education.
“Higher education is important,” Steele said. “It encompasses both college and vocational (school). If students can get the skills, a trade or an education and bring it back to the Tribe, it will make it that much stronger.”
Steele, originally from Oklahoma, earned a bachelor’s in business management from the University of Phoenix, a master’s in adult education from the University of South Florida and a doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University in Tampa.
Prior to leading the Tribal Education Department, he was the director of Training and Technical Services at the Native Learning Center. Steele has also served as principal of charter schools in Tampa, specializing in students with autism. He was also the academic dean and director of Education for two technical schools.
“I want to learn about what is going on Tribalwide,” Steele said. “Communication is very important in education, and the largest part of communication is listening.”
Understanding the needs and concerns of the community is crucial to Steele’s plan for the department. He aims to put those needs into action to improve the level of education for everyone – children and adults.
Inspiration came from many places, including Steele’s parents who did not have college degrees. He was lucky enough to have one teacher who changed his life: eighth-grade teacher Carmella Matthews.
“She saw something in me and worked closely with me to make sure I pushed myself,” Steele said. “Looking back, I can see how inspirational she was for me. It’s probably where I got the start to my education career. I had higher dreams for myself and had to work hard and put in the effort to reach them.”
Steele said he knows how difficult it is for teenagers to look beyond today and plan for the future. He pursued higher education on his own.
“I know it’s hard for them to wrap their minds around,” he said. “I would tell them they don’t have to sacrifice fun, but there are sacrifices you have to make now to have the life you want in the future.”
Steele believes academia is a place where students should learn to open their minds and think for themselves. He would like every graduate to be a free thinker and free agent of the world who will contribute to the good of mankind. Step one in that direction begins under Steele’s leadership of the Education Department.