Slam-dunking principal aims to make impact

Nomaan Merchant

As students at west Evanston’s Martin Luther King Lab Magnet School will soon find out, the new principal can dunk.

During his five years at Loyola University Chicago, Keir Rogers set two Horizon League records and later tried out with an NBA team. Soon after his basketball days ended, Rogers began pursuing another passion – educating students.

In a school board meeting April 3, the district named Rogers the principal of King Lab, 2424 Lake St. He will assume his duties July 1.

Rogers brings almost a decade of experience as an administrator in schools in Rockford, Ill., and Lake Zurich, Ill.

He grew up in Michigan City, Ind., in what he described as a “pretty extreme urban situation.” Though he was a basketball standout at an early age, Rogers strived to maintain a balance between athletics and school.

“I did not want to stay in the same environment,” Rogers said. “I was fortunate enough to have some pretty involved parents and teachers to keep me focused.”

Rogers became interested in teaching while tutoring his younger sister, who had a reading deficiency. But as his high school graduation approached, he had no way to pay for college and was ready to take a job in a local factory.

But on a trip to scout a teammate, Loyola recruiters discovered Rogers and offered him a basketball scholarship.

At Loyola, Rogers set two conference records in steals and averaged 19 points per game during his final season. Meanwhile, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years at Loyola.

After college, Rogers tried out for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers but was cut during training camp. He then played professionally for two years in Europe before injuries forced him to end his playing career.

Upon returning to the U.S., Rogers taught at two Chicago high schools while becoming certified to be an administrator.

“I wanted to make a larger impact on students,” Rogers said.

Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Lynn McCarthy said Rogers distinguished himself from about 200 applicants for the principal position.

“People were very impressed with his vision of the school,” McCarthy said.

Rogers hopes to “establish some roots in this community” and plans to bring a student-centered approach to King Lab.

“I want to make sure that every student has a clear sense of what it means to be an excellent student,” Rogers said.

Although his experience with elementary grade levels is limited, Rogers said he will rely on staff to make the transition smoother.

“I just love working with people,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he was concerned about the ongoing achievement gap between students of different races in the district. At King Lab, white students have consistently performed better on standardized tests than black students have.

“We need to identify it as a reality,” Rogers said. “Every child has to have a chance to make gains.”

But Rogers hasn’t forgotten his basketball roots. The 37-year-old can still “barely” dunk and plans to provide hands-on basketball instruction for King Lab students.

“I plan on dunking on a few eighth-grade students if they let me,” Rogers said. “I’ve got about two more years left.”

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]