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Her Life’s Calling

Beryl New closes the book on 35 years of serving students

From The Ichabod - Fall 2023
By Lindsay Thompson

Over the summer, Beryl New retired from Topeka Public Schools, bringing her 35-year career in education as a teacher, counselor, principal and administrator to a close. In every role, she was guided by the same objective.

“I enjoy helping people recognize their potential and develop it,” said New, ba ’88, m ed ’02.

Beryl New posing outdoors

(Beryl New, ba ’88, m ed ’02. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

New’s career in education began in 1984. She was a secretary with six young children when she received a calling that changed the direction of her life forever.

“I was returning from a church trip,” she said. “I heard what I know was the spirit of God speak to me. It said, ‘When you get back to Topeka, go to Washburn and enroll. Be an English teacher.’”

She was nervous about how she would manage going back to school, but she trusted the guidance she received.  

“I have to give a shout-out to Dr. Robert Stein,” she said of the professor emeritus who was chair of the English department for 33 years. “He placed me on track for the honors program, and I graduated with honors. He invested his time and personal attention in my success. So many of my professors built true relationships with me. They motivated me.”

When New graduated in 1988 and started teaching English at Topeka High School, she focused on her students similarly, encouraging them to believe in themselves. She gave special attention to those who weren’t naturally motivated by the material.

“If I could help them understand how important it is to have those skills, it would open up doors for success in their life,” she said.

New loved teaching. She didn’t picture herself doing anything else. But her principal, Ned Nusbaum, ba ’64, noticed students often sought her advice.

“Dr. Nusbaum said to me, ‘You can help more kids if you become a counselor.’ That stuck with me.”

She combined teaching and counseling for three years at Topeka High. Over time other colleagues, like Dale Cushinberry, encouraged her to apply her talents to help even more students. It was a call to action she could not refuse.

She became an assistant principal at Highland Park High School and an assistant and associate principal at Lawrence High School. During the same period, she completed her master of education from Washburn in 2002 and a doctor of education from the University of Kansas in 2007. In 2010, she returned to Highland Park High School, becoming Topeka's first female African American head principal. In 2017, she became the district’s director of certified personnel and the director of equity, the positions she held at retirement.

When she first enrolled at Washburn, she had no way of knowing the many ways she would grow and change so she could help students recognize and realize their potential. In retrospect, it seems clear.

“I can look back after all these years and see the true purpose in what God told me to do,” New said.

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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