Barbara Kelly Forged Path as First Innovation School Leader in State

February 2, 2018
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When Barbara Kelly took the reins at the newly minted Paul Revere Innovation School nine years ago, it was an educational concept that was brand new and in uncharted waters.

She forged ahead, nonetheless, walking the streets in and around Revere Street and making friends of her neighbors and partners for the re-designed school – a school that was the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

This week, Kelly – a Revere native – has announced that she will retire from her principal position at the end of the school year after nine years in Revere and nearly 40 years in the profession.

Whoever follows her will have the luxury of having the mold set for what is a new and innovative educational concept – one that she defined not only for Revere, but also for the entire state.

“Barbara Kelly took this concept and ran with it,” said former Supt. Paul Dakin, who is still on the Governance Board of the school. “We would have never gotten it off the ground without her leadership. It wouldn’t have gotten to where it is today.”

Kelly came on nine years ago and spent her first year at a temporary location in the Beachmont School. A graduate of Revere Public Schools and a native of Beachmont, she soon transitioned the Paul Revere to the brand new building on the old site.

Before landing there, Kelly walked the streets of the area, rounding up new friends and partnerships to help support the school. That, of course, was a keystone part of the Innovation School concept – which is outside of the normal school structure.

“One of the biggest things I realized is it’s a different role as principal of an innovation school,” she said. “What you have to realize is it’s not a dictatorial role from the top down. It’s one of the best things that happened to the school. It made us a family and not a staff. Every teacher ahs a voice. We all carry equal weight and my voice as principal is not stronger than anyone else at Paul Revere.”

The Innovation School concept came out of an idea by the state about 10 years ago to provide districts with what is essentially a place to try new things, to pilot programs that could be good for the entire district. To do so, the school is outside of the School Committee and Teacher’s Union purview. However, the budgetary process for the Paul Revere does remain under the School Committee’s purview. Additionally, a Governance Board has a say over policies and procedures.

It was all a great experiment that Kelly put her stamp on.

“One great thing we did is we stayed connected to the district and the community,” she said. “That made us even stronger. As a school in the community we were in it with the rest of the district. That was important because if we were in isolation, it might have bred resentment and it didn’t. I commend Revere for that.”

The Paul Revere has piloted numerous programs for the district, including school uniforms, Open Circle, the spelling bee program, computers for every student and new professional development models for teachers.

They also have built a list of well over 100 partners who visit, support or help at the school regularly.

But beyond redefining a new model for education, Kelly has exceled in hugs and understanding – a prerequisite for any elementary school teacher or principal. Kelly, in particular, seemingly has every student in mind and always makes sure her students are ready for school in all facets.

Whether it’s being the first one in the building every day, or managing the controlled chaos of a Field Day, Kelly was known to be on the ball and close to the kids.

In fact, Kelly said comforting students and getting encouraged by students will be the one thing she misses the most.

“I am going to miss that extra hug in the morning,” she said. “You’ll have a day where things aren’t going well and the way the kids say things to you or come up and give you a hug – that just brightens your day. That’s why you’re here.”

Kelly said she is glad to have finished her career in her hometown after teaching in Lynn for 30 years. She said she would gladly continue in teaching, that her heart is still in it, but she said it’s time for her to spend more time with her family.

However, she said she’s not completely disappearing from the Paul Revere.

“There are so many great things we do that I still want to be a part of,” she said. “Maybe in my retirement there will be things I can do for Paul Revere and the Revere Public Schools. You’re always part of the family at Paul Revere and so I’ll still feel part of this family.”

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