A Conversation with Dr. Nisha Patel


Lily Kleinhenz

Dr. Nisha Patel serves as the superintendent of the School District of Clayton.

“I was actually born over 8,000 miles away from here across the ocean in a small town called Eldoret, Kenya,” said the new Clayton District Superintendent Dr. Nisha Patel. “I was born there, and I stayed there until I was about 10. Years prior to moving, my parents sat my three siblings and I down, and they told us someday we were going to move to the United States and the only reason we are moving there is so we could get a great education.” 

Patel instilled education as a core value for herself from an early age.

After reflecting on finishing 6th grade in New Jersey and the rest of her secondary education in Kansas City, Kansas, Patel said, “I loved my middle school experience. I loved my high school experience. I was that student that was involved in every activity you can think of. I was STUCCO president and the editor of the school newspaper. I was not athletically inclined, so you would not find me in sports, even though I wanted to be. However, I did manage to become the girls basketball manager. I just loved school, and I think, no I know, the reason I loved school so much was because we had really amazing teachers who cared about me.”

Patel sees similarities in her own educational experiences with the quality of education The Clayton School District offers. 

“We have great teachers in the School District of Clayton, transformational ones. If we want to make real change and transform our district, it is essential to have those teachers who make connections with students and make them feel like they belong, believe in them, and challenge them all at the same time. It is the teachers who make their students achieve more and be more than they ever thought they could be.” 

Patel attributes her connection with her high school newspaper teacher as the biggest factor in her love for her schooling experience and success in high school, and maybe even today. 

“It changed who I was,” Patel said. “He [her journalism adviser] believed in me. He inspired me. He would encourage me by saying ‘Nisha write this story, you’ll be perfect for it.’ and I ended up getting an award at a university for it. Later he made me the editor-in-chief.” 

She didn’t see that in herself at the time, and needed a great teacher like him to help her reach her full potential. 

“This is what great teachers do,” Patel said, 

“I got a bachelor’s degree in Biology and my masters in Science Education from Kansas University. My first teaching job was at the high school I graduated from. My newspaper teacher had retired a few years earlier. After that, I moved to St. Louis and taught at Eureka High School for a few years,” Patel said. 

She explained she didn’t recognize that administration was her calling right away. Other respected teachers and colleagues saw the potential in her and encouraged her to strive for more. 

“There wasn’t one defining moment where I knew this is what I was meant to do, but there were a lot of small moments where people saw something in me and believed I could achieve more. I coupled this sentiment with my own desire to always keep learning. So while I was a teacher, I was in school taking administration classes working toward my degree.” 

Patel believes the Clayton community has a drive for excellence and always strives to be better which positively impacts the education Clayton students receive. 

“I always want to balance academic excellence or becoming transformational with knowing where students and staff’s social-emotional needs are. There has to be a balance there.” 

She explains everyone needs a trusted adult they can talk to if they need to. 

“When a student leaves Clayton High School, of course we want to make sure they leave with all the skills content wise so they can achieve any greater education they wish to have or whatever path they choose, but the student also has to be a kind human being. They have to know empathy, compassion, and collaboration. To me those skills are just as important.”

With these key values and ideas Patel carries, her past background, and love for education, she is very excited about the future of the Clayton School District.