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Catch Up with Kelley

Q&A with EHS’s newest assistant principal, Jim Kelley

Mr. Kelley joined the Essex High School community last spring. So far, in his role as the 9th grade assistant principal, he is loving his first year here and has stated his admiration for the people he’s met in the process.

Previously the ]principal at Hunt Middle School in Burlington, Mr. Kelley comes equipped with experience. But, his care for the students shines through from his 20+ years spent in education.

We interviewed Mr. Kelley to get a larger scope of his perspective as a new assistant principal and the path he’s taken to get to this role.

The Hive: How are you today? 

Mr. Kelley: I’m good. Thank you.

The Hive: How’s your year been going so far?

Mr. Kelley: It’s been going great. Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. 

The Hive: What do you think you like most about Essex High School? 

Mr. Kelley: It just has a nice feel about it. You know, people have been welcoming, students have been welcoming, staff have been welcoming. So I really appreciate that. It seems like there’s a good system here. People really think about how we improve not just individual things, but they look at the big picture. That’s really important because you kind of see the whole context of what’s working and what’s not and keep continually trying to grow and improve.

But right now, it’s been great. I really enjoy my team that I’m working with, and I really have enjoyed my interactions with students, with teachers, and with parents, so it’s been good.

The Hive: What does a typical day look like in your job?

Mr. Kelley: So I get here in the morning, I check my emails and just see what’s going on there. A lot of it is going around the hallways and supporting kids getting where they need to go, that includes being in the cafeteria in the morning, being outside or greeting people, or greeting people at the end of the day. Then, during the day, there’s the kids having an issue with school, with a teacher, or a situation, and then it’s supporting them through that. It’s not just about discipline, but it’s really about helping people find a smooth path. So sometimes people make mistakes, but we all do.

The Hive: Similarly, on that topic, is there anything that you would like to work to improve at Essex High School?

Mr. Kelley: Well, I come from the Burlington School District. Winooski is the most diverse district, Burlington is the second most diverse. With that perspective, one of the things that I feel strongly about is equity. Really working to make sure that people of all backgrounds feel welcome and that they belong is important. 

The Hive: You mentioned working in the Burlington School District, but what was your career path? Going back from high school up until now if you’d like.

Mr. Kelley: Oh, wow. Okay. I went to Middlebury College. I did a variety of serious jobs and fun jobs, I graduated from college and then I directed a ski patrol down there for two years. Then I taught high school. My first high school experience was in New Hampshire. I taught at a boarding school, the White Mountain School, and I was a ski coach and the coach of other sports. I was a dorm parent and I was a chemistry and Advanced Biology teacher. So that was my first teaching experience, and then I came to Burlington. I’ve worked in an environmental lab here not too far away and in Williston. I was then the director of the Tibetan resettlement project for three years from 92 to 95. Which is an amazing job. I would help Tibetans resettle here in Burlington, Vermont. And that’s one of the reasons I feel strongly about the refugee experience. I’ve traveled to India and visited settlements and go back and forth quite a bit actually. 

I taught 10 years at Edmunds Middle School, science there for seventh and eighth graders, and then after that, I moved to Hunt Middle School, where I was assistant principal for four years and then I was a principal for two years. So that’s kind of a little synopsis of things that I’ve done.

The Hive: Yeah, that’s interesting. So besides skiing, what do you like to do in your free time?

Mr. Kelley: Now I love just hiking, hiking with my dog and with my wife. We get out and we hike  Snake Mountain, or we’ll do Camel’s Hump every now and then. Or we’ll do mount Elmore. We like to try to mix it up and get around just outside. Enjoy the outdoors.

The Hive: Is there anywhere you’d like to travel that you haven’t been to?

Mr. Kelley: I would like to go to Tibet. My wife is actually Tibetan.  She grew up in India, but she’s never been to Tibet. Her family escaped Tibet in 1959. She was actually born in India and raised in India. So really I’d love to go to Tibet and see where she was from if we could, but it’s really difficult because of the way it is currently since China took over. The ability to travel there and do things is pretty restricted. There’s been a lot of oppression there. 

But other than Tibet, we have some places in Europe to get over to. I’ve been to Ireland but my wife hasn’t so I would like to take her there. She also has a lot of friends throughout Europe that we could go and visit with. I’d love to go all around Europe, and that’s probably more doable.

The Hive: That sounds exciting! So, if you weren’t working in a high school, what do you think you’d be doing?

Mr. Kelley: Not in a high school? I would probably want to do international work, somewhat similar to what I was doing when I was working with the Tibetan resettlement project. So some kind of international work, probably overseas, supporting either democracy development or just supporting people overseas.

The Hive: That’s a great answer. Next up, this question I have for you is two parts. Firstly, where did you go to high school, and how does that impact how you conduct your role as assistant principal?

Mr. Kelley: I went to two different high schools. I started out in a public school for ninth grade, called North Shore High School, which was on Long Island; it’s where I’m from. Then, my final three years I went to Chaminade High School, which was an all boys Catholic High School. It was a very different experience: the coat, the tie, all of that. It shapes my experience by seeing those two kinds of perspectives – there were really good things I got out of both of them. I find importance in courses that are engaging and that really excite you, and I had some classes in both places that really grabbed my attention. Either the teacher was amazing or the content just grabbed me. In fact, I went on to be a religion major in college, mainly focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. I was going to be a biology major, but because of a course I took at that Catholic school on Christian Existentialism, I was just blown away. I was so excited by it that I ended up taking every course similar I could when I got to college. Also, there was a biology teacher who was amazing, and actually the course itself and the content. I ended up being an organic chemistry minor and a Tibetan Buddhism major. A very strange combination, but I love that because I got to look at the world with a really different lens. 

I want to make sure that students have the opportunity in high school to broaden their perspectives. That could be through a class, through travel experiences, or other means. This is such a critical time – when you’re deciding “What do I want to be?”, and seeing all those perspectives helps. 

One of the things I’ve appreciated in all the work that I’ve done is recognizing that when you travel you get to know other cultures really well, that there are different ways of looking at the world and they’re really valuable. You see what’s in common, but human beings are human beings and cultures are different, and really appreciating different values helps you in finding a good path. It makes your own life better and actually makes your society better. I would hope a high school is helping broaden that scope for students, aiding in finding what they’re passionate about, and then helping them get to their end goal.

The Hive: Yeah. I agree completely with what you said. Thank you. Do you have any closing remarks that you’d like to end on?

Mr. Kelley: No, I’m just delighted to be here. My wife sees me come home and says “You look so happy”, and it’s because I’m really having a good time. I’m busy and my days go by so fast, like probably all of us right? And it’s good busy. I feel like I’m enjoying it. I feel like I’m connecting with people. I believe that those connections are helping me in my position. I want to continue making this system even better.

The Hive: Yes, those connections are valuable. Thank you.

Mr. Kelley: Thank you for having me.


*Correction: Earlier version stated that Mr. Kelley was interim principal at Hunt Middle School and taught in the Bronx. Mr. Kelley was only an interim for 1 year and then principal, and he never taught in the Bronx.*

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Lily Larsen
Lily Larsen, Editor and Staff Writer
Lily Larsen is a 12th grader and staff writer (and editor?) for The Hive. She is largely involved in Student Government and Environmental Club. She enjoys reading, hiking, snowboarding, and crossword puzzles in her free time. You can contact her at [email protected].
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