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The 2022 Women of UD

Katy Jo Bull

Katy Jo Bull



Katy Jo Bull appreciates the humility of competitive rowing. “You can’t be better than everyone else in the boat, or the boat goes in the wrong direction. You’re trusting someone, who’s sitting in the back of the boat, to steer you in the right direction, because you’re facing the opposite direction. You’re also trying to pay attention to what seven other people are doing. Then, if the boat wins, you all win. Nobody gives you an extra medal for being the best person in the boat. You all get the same one.” In her more than 10 years of rowing, including as a member of the University of Dayton’s lightweight boat, Bull learned to trust in the humility of teamwork. Now, as a co-principal of the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) High School, Bull humbly trusts in her team, including her co-principal Danya Berry. “She is my teammate, accountability partner, and friend.  She and I both have our lanes that we stay in, but also are really willing to challenge each other to figure out what plan is going to help kids the best.” 

The pandemic disrupted their plan, and they’re still working to get the momentum back. DECA, a small, public charter school with a total enrollment of about 370 serving primarily first-generation college students, doesn’t have admission requirements other than the stipulation that students must live in the city of Dayton. Bull says their policy is different from most high-performing schools, which have thresholds for admission.  Even though DECA went remote last fall, Bull said the Class of 2021 still was expected to meet the standing graduation requirements. “They had to complete what are called ‘gateways.’ It’s the bread and butter of what we do. It has all of their college classes, job shadows, internships, community service, all the extra things that we package into their education to make sure that they’re actually ready.” Her team knew that, even at the start of the school year, the students were overwhelmed. “You put any 17-year-old in front of a computer screen for six hours a day, it’s hard. They’re toggling between Shakespeare and their physics homework, and they're losing their mind being by themselves in a room.”

Nonetheless, Bull was determined to stay consistent in her messaging to the students, telling them their college professors would not treat them in a special manner because they were online for their senior year of high school. “You’re going to be sitting next to kids who weren’t (online), and that’s not fair, but it also wouldn’t be fair for us to let up on the gas and let you think that the world isn’t going to expect you to be prepared for this.”

She knows well that life does not slow down. Just three years ago, Bull’s daughter was born with cancer. Shortly after the completion of pediatric chemotherapy, and in the middle of the pandemic shutdown, she and her spouse, Charlie, welcomed a son. He is now 18 months old, “so it’s been, you know, a rollercoaster,” Bull says, “and some days I look at Charlie and say, ‘I don’t know if I’m qualified for this.’”

Despite the pressures and demands on her at home, Bull and her team work tirelessly, including nights and weekends, to serve their students and to try to reclaim the momentum. “The students are the ones who are doing all of the actual work and have to navigate this world in this mess that they have inherited, in this day and age. And as hard as it is to be an adult in the middle of a pandemic, I watch our kids go through their days and all the things they’re up against. It’s so much harder for them.” She worries about the students outside of the classroom, many of whom have to take part-time jobs or care for siblings to help their families. “The complexities of the pandemic add an extra layer to what was already a complicated world, and it becomes easy to put things that should be really important at a lower priority level.” At this time in our country, Bull says, “serving underrepresented populations is really critical work – not just to do the right thing, but to move forward and become better as a country. I am constantly in awe that we have such a willing and dedicated team of adults working so hard to serve our students.”

Bull views her role as a conduit for her students to make their way to college as a crucial part of this critical work, but also acknowledges much is out of her control. “I know that life in higher ed has also become increasingly complicated, and there’s so much uncertainty there, but I worry (colleges) will forget the important work of serving the populations that are first forgotten. I think the path forward is for (educators) to remember what is really important, or we will go back to serving primarily the population that gets served first anyway.”