Unseen by Students, Controller Keeps School Finances in Check

Crystal Lemon via Zoom. Photo by Sawyer Thompson.

Tucked away in GDS’ business office in the lower/middle school building, the school’s controller, Crystal Lemon, and her team crunch numbers and create spreadsheets to make sure that GDS’ finances are stable. The team is one of the many parts of the school that allows students to have such a comprehensive education.

As a controller, Lemon oversees GDS’ accounting team by making sure that the school’s funds are recorded properly. Her duties include managing the money coming in through tuition and fundraising, along with directing money towards different departments and school necessities. Her team also works closely with the advancement and admissions offices to deal with financial aid for students.

Recently, Lemon focused a large amount of her work on GDS’ construction of the lower/middle school building and ensuring that the school’s finances were maintained throughout the process.

“We’re capturing all of the transactions that happen,” Lemon told the Bit in an interview.

According to Lemon, the business office has been reducing the amount of paper it uses by utilizing credit cards instead of checks whenever possible and printing less paper.

Lemon started her career as an accountant because she was extremely interested in math when she was younger. She stumbled upon the profession of accounting after discovering a questionnaire offered at her high school library to help students determine which careers to pursue. Based on the results, Lemon was directed to become a math teacher or an accountant. She decided to try accounting, as she was not eager to teach. “I don’t know if I’m really that person to stand up in front of a crowd,” she said.

She went to school for accounting at Hampton University in Northern Virginia before working her first job as a staff accountant at Envision EMI, a company that helps students explore different career paths. Roughly five years later, she moved to a senior accountant position at the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) where she “was the only person that had accounting knowledge within the organization.” 

It was at NSCS where Lemon had her first encounter with an audit, an official inspection of financial accounts. Since none of her colleagues had experience with accounting, she was left to work on her own. “My team really couldn’t really help me, so I ended up doing a really bad job on the audit,” she said. She learned from the auditors how to perform a more successful audit, and the following year, she “had a great audit, and everything went well.”

Despite having already accomplished much as an accountant, Lemon still wanted to do more with her career; she told herself that “there was a lot more to learn within the accounting world.” In order to gain further knowledge, she moved on to an accounting firm called Tate and Tryon, a company that handles finances for non-profit organizations. “I had about five or six different clients that I did accounting work for and I learned a lot there,” she said. Lemon served as a senior accountant at the company for about seven years before deciding that she wanted to try something different.

Six years ago, the opportunity for a change in position opened to Lemon when GDS began searching for a controller.

Lemon said that the school seemed “like a great place to be, especially with the mission and just being in the school environment.” She thinks of her job “like a puzzle” since she needs to see where money comes from, deposit it in the right place, check for inconsistencies and put the information into a spreadsheet for GDS’ chief financial officer, Jeffrey Houser.

Houser told the Bit that Lemon has a “tenacious appetite for getting things done and done accurately,” but also has a great sense of humor.

Lemon’s current team is composed of Zahoor Khalil and Anne Ellyse Kania. Together, they manage to pull data into formats that allow for recordings of transactions. Although Lemon and her team don’t directly work with students, her and her team’s work allows the school to function and offer resources to students.