Dr. Cheryl C. Askew ’12 (Education) “If someone told me 21 years ago that I would be principal of Ocean Lakes High School, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I would have laughed,” confesses Dr. Cheryl C. Askew. But that’s exactly where she is today, and she sees God’s hand guiding her every step of the way. Askew puts in long hours — arriving at school by 6 a.m. and getting home at 10 p.m. some days. Despite the busy schedule, Askew is passionate about the work she is doing. Most of all, she’s proud to be part of the culture that’s been created at Ocean Lakes. “We do things ‘The Dolphin Way’ around here,” she explains. “We set the expectation, from the beginning, to do the right thing — even when nobody is looking.”
Askew believes in setting the bar high and watching students rise to the challenge. She is continually impressed with the students and the way they treat and respect one another. “These kids hold the door for each other and pick up trash on the floor without being asked,” she shares. “And they actually say hello to adults when they pass us in the hallway!”
It’s no secret that the students and leaders at Ocean Lakes High School are doing something right. Just last year, they received the prestigious National Gold Council of Excellence Award from the National Association of Student Councils. “The award is reflective of the hard work these students do every year,” notes Askew. “They do a ton of community service, and everything they work on is student generated.”
When asked how she incorporates her Christian values on the job, Askew says she tries to show a reflection of Christ in her actions. “I pray every morning for God to give me the wisdom to make good decisions and be a model for students and teachers,” she says.
And every once in a while, Askew finds an opportunity to bring some faith-based encouragement to school. Last semester when the City of Virginia Beach School Board decided to make up snow days on Saturdays, Askew and her team greeted the students at 6:30 a.m. with an upbeat concert of popular music including Mandisa’s “Good Morning” song featuring Toby Mac. “I’m sure most of the kids had no idea it was a Christian artist,” says Askew. “But it lifted them up!”
As principal of the school, Askew practices the concept of leading by serving. “I will never ask my team to do something I’m not willing to do myself,” she explains. “Whether it’s picking up a broom in the cafeteria or stepping into a classroom to fill in for a teacher. We don’t manage people, we serve them — and we lead them by serving them.”
Askew is grateful to have family, friends and mentors who help bring out the best in her. “I’ve always been surrounded by people who make me better,” she says. “Like my husband, who is probably one of the strongest Christians I know, and my predecessor, who encouraged me to go into school leadership.”
Having been the recipient of wise guidance, Askew feels especially rewarded when she can lead others to success. “When you work with teenagers, every kid is one bad decision away from being a real knucklehead,” she says. “And when you
see them turn their life around, it’s pretty incredible.”
Askew has helped countless students choose a better path, but she remembers one 9th-grade boy in particular. He had been making bad choices, and she — along with the guidance counselor, football coach and other staff members — worked intently with him. Today, that student is a successful NFL player who started a nonprofit organization that supports youth. “I remember telling him to take those good things that happened to him while he was struggling and pay it forward when he found success,” says Askew.
In her own educational journey, Askew always knew she wanted to go back to school for her post-graduate degree. She had been praying over the decision one day when a flyer for an open house at Regent came in the mail. She was familiar with the university’s reputation so she went to the event and began exploring opportunities.
Choosing a Christian university was important to Askew. “I looked at other institutions, but I understood the importance of a Christ-centered focus, and I wanted that to be a part of my graduate experience,” says Askew.
Waiting 20 years to return to college for an advanced degree can be intimidating. But Askew found what she needed to ease that transition at Regent. “The best thing about Regent for me personally was the sense of community,” she recalls. “There were students of all different ages, but we were part of the same community.”
So what’s next for this passionate educator and leader? Surprisingly, she tries not to make too many plans about where she’s headed next. Instead, she wakes up every day with an open mind and an open heart, waiting on divine direction. “I’m prayerful and mindful about what God wants me to do next so I don’t get caught up in what I want,” says Askew. “When you work in the school system, you could move around at any moment. When it’s time for a change, I know that God will place me exactly where He needs me to be.”