When the bell rings at Bettendorf High School, Joy Kelly is on the move.
She walks through the halls and cafeteria, rattling off "hellos" to students passing by. She reminds a few to remove their headphones, asks football players about Friday's game and high-fives a sophomore who's auditioning for a play later that week. She sees her son, Michael, a senior, and gives him a hug.
Kelly, 50, was named interim principal three days before the school year started, but she's no stranger to these hallways. She had served as the school's associate principal since 2003 and previously was the principal at Regina High School in Iowa City. The position came open after the resignation of Jimmy Casas.
Every day, she takes laps around the school during 10-minute breaks between class and chats with as many of the school's 1,500 students as possible. In doing so, she averages about 16,000 steps per day around the building, according to her Fitbit.
"My job is a balance of getting out and about and sitting in meetings," Kelly said. "Everyone in administration says we wish we could be out and in the classrooms more, but there's so much planning that goes into this, too."
There's even more to balance this year in Kelly's new role. Read on to get to know Kelly, what's new at Bettendorf High School and her goals for this school year.
QUESTION: How'd you react to being named the interim principal?
ANSWER: This is my 14th year in the building. That's a long time for a high school administrator to be in the same place. I'm very fortunate and blessed in that I love my job. I love the people I work with and I love the students I work with every day — I try to help them and learn from them. It's humbling that (the district) would recognize my ability and skill set to do this.
Q: What are some differences between being the principal and assistant principal?
A: I'm still doing a lot of both right now. I try to remind people that our high school is as big as a lot of small towns in the state of Iowa, so there's a lot of different dynamics going on. There are things I'm learning in my new role that I was not responsible for before, and I'm also trying to help my colleagues share some of the duties I had. The change and transition is a lot for us. For me, it's things like the budget and purchase orders that are new to me. The beauty is that everyone has dug in and asked, "What do we need to do and how are we going to help the community and student body move forward?"
Q: What advice do you have for freshmen?
A: The thing I love about being in education is there are more opportunities for a fresh start than anything you could dream up. Whatever your history was in middle school, whether it was positive or negative, you have the opportunity for a fresh start now — if that's how you spoke to people, how you manage yourself, how you took care of your schoolwork or didn't. For a high school student, every term is new courses a new chance. For that matter, every Monday is a fresh start where you can say, "What are some small changes I can make this week to improve myself, grow my heart and my mind that's going to be healthy and productive?"
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Q: What's new this year?
We designated "PRIDE" time during the school day this year — the acronym is poised, respect, integrity, determination and excellence. The whole purpose behind it is taking 45 minutes out of a student's school day to develop skills and competencies that yield positive results, to close any gaps and to get ready for what is after high school.
Q: How does PRIDE time work?
A: Students get their online account for how they schedule themselves and it goes live at 8 a.m. every Monday. For the most part, they can schedule PRIDE time on their own. But if there's a gap or deficiency — if they're not passing a class or turning their homework in — then the teacher assigns their PRIDE time, and it's not optional.
Q: Why was that important to launch this year?
A: It's a big undertaking. We think we have a responsibility to offer time during the day where students can work with teachers, make up quizzes or tests. Such a high percentage of our students are involved in extra-curricular activities or work after school, so they're stretched themselves. For us, it's an equity issue. If everything is offered before or after school, some students get knocked out of those opportunities. By offering time during the day, everybody gets the same chance for enrichment.
Q: What are your goals this year?
Along with successfully implementing PRIDE time, I want to continue a culture that these are not just my kids in my class — these are all of our kids. There's also the parent-engagement piece. We're looking at how can we tap into parents as resources — they can come in and talk about their career or their experiences and help out. Also, I know this is a big school, but my goal is always for every student to have a small-school experience.
Q: You have two kids at Bettendorf High School. How do you view this school as a parent?
A: The expectation here is we don't treat, talk or behave in a way toward somebody else's child that we wouldn't be OK with our own child experiencing. The important thing is I want people to have the experience I want for my own children. My kids who are in college have told me how prepared they are for college, for writing papers and giving speeches after attending Bettendorf High School. It's a culture that I'm proud of as a parent.
Q: As the search begins for a new principal, will you throw your name in the running?
A: I agreed to serve as interim for the year, and I'm only one week in. I haven't thought too far beyond that. It's not like I'm sitting here saying, "I've always wanted to be the high school principal." I've been a high school principal before, so it's not a matter of wanting to have that experience. I think we'll see what the process ends up being, and I'll have more time under my belt to say this is something I want to pursue or not. I'm committed to being in this school. Whatever the district decides would best serve our students, then certainly I would consider that.