After working for the same company for 32 years, changing jobs was the next logical move for Billy Crews (BA 78) in a career dedicated to serving his community.
“I thought 30 plus years was enough,” said Crews, vice president of strategic partnerships in the Mississippi/Arkansas region of Teach for America. “I felt like I had done what I was supposed to do and what I was called to do at Journal, Inc.”
Crews started working for Journal Publishing Company (now Journal, Inc.) in Tupelo right after he received his degree from Ole Miss in 1978, working his way up the company ranks from community service representative to president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors.
Like many incumbent graduates, Crews was uncertain as to what he wanted to do upon graduation. The liberal arts major’s plans included a possible stint in law school, but all of that changed one afternoon walking across campus with Emeritus Professor of Sociology Dr. Vaughn Grisham.
“He asked me what I was going to be doing when I graduated,” said Crews. “I said I guess I’ll be like everybody else and look for a job unless you have one for me. He said, ‘I might. Come see me.’”
Grisham introduced Crews to George McLean (BA 26), then owner and CEO of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. From there Crews went on to eventually become McLean’s successor.
The son of an Ole Miss literature professor, Crews grew up with the Ole Miss campus literally in his back yard from the time the family moved to Oxford from Virginia in 1966.
“Our first home was actually on Sorority Row,” said Crews. “We lived in faculty housing across from the Kappa Kappa Gamma house, which was a great place to grow up. Later when I was a student at Ole Miss I was a houseboy at the Kappa house and met my wife Catherine (BFA 79) there.”
Crews considers growing up in Oxford and Ole Miss a “child’s paradise” and went on to excel in school serving as student body president in both junior high and high school. He was elected associated student body president at Ole Miss, serving during his senior year (1977-78).
“They tell me I was the first student body president that was not part of the Greek system,” laughed Crews.
After leaving Journal Publishing Company Crews briefly served as chief operating officer for the Tupelo public school system before landing at Teach for America.
“I aligned myself with Teach for America and had the opportunity to join the staff,” said Crews. “I’m committed to changing and improving our education system. My intention in leaving the private sector and becoming part of the public school system was to make sure that we achieve the results that we can and should.”
Although Crews did not major in public administration or pursue a career in teaching, he feels that his educational background combined with his extensive professional experience make him the perfect fit for his current role with Teach for America.
“I was a liberal arts major that went to work for a company and focused a lot of our corporate resources on education, but I didn’t have a background in education,” said Crews. “I think to achieve the results we need in public education the private sector needs to work in concert with the public sector to ensure high performance in our schools. It takes a combination of external sources and resources to help public schools to achieve that much higher level, the levels they are capable of.”
Crews is on a mission to give back to the community and focuses a lot of his effort on telling the story of Teach for America, educating leaders across the community and state about what the organization is all about.
“Most people don’t know much about Teach for America,” said Crews. “The organization is dedicated to ensuring that one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. In my mind we could rename it Teach for Mississippi, Teach for Quitman County, Teach for Clarksdale, Jackson wherever we need to improve our schools which is everywhere. We all have a vested interest in that.”
While his newfound career is up and running, Crews is just as excited to finally be back home in Oxford after residing in Tupelo for many years.
“I had an extra spring in my step the other morning as I walked from my office back to my home at lunch time, which is just two blocks from the square,” said Crews. “It feels great to be back in Oxford after 35 years.”
Crews and his wife Catherine have three children William Lowrey Crews Jr., Mary Catherine Crews Molpus and Perrin Allen Crews, a senior in the Ole Miss Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
For more information on Teach for America, visit their website at www.teachforamerica.org.