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Superintendent Bids Columbia Heights Public Schools Farewell After 22 Years

Superintendent Kathy L. Kelly Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) Superintendent Kathy L. Kelly will say farewell on June 30 after 22 years with the District, 13 as the superintendent.

Kelly has been in the education world for 47 years, more than two decades of which were spent serving CHPS. In 1998, Kelly began her tenure with the District as Curriculum Coordinator. Two years later, she became the Director of Teaching & Learning – a position she held for three years. Before assuming her role as Superintendent in 2007, Kelly served as Assistant Superintendent for three years.

CA Principal Duane Berkas has fond memories of working alongside Kelly in various capacities. “Times were tough when Kathy became our superintendent, but she quickly provided CHPS with a new vision and renewed way of working together with our community to accomplish things that required us coming together,” he said.

“There are so many things that [Kelly] put into place,” said Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Dawn Hoium – who served alongside Kelly for her entire 22 years. “All day/every day Kindergarten years before there was funding for it, Advanced Placement classes, collaboration with the City in building the Hylander Center, other building projects, many curriculums and her love for the arts.”

Kelly said her philosophy as Superintendent is to always put students first, “If they are your true north, all will fall into shape,” she said. “Live within your means. Leverage finances to support students, staff and the community. Seek collaborative partners; you can’t do it alone. The real joy is building it together.”

[Kelly] leaves a legacy of caring behind her. She always put the students, staff and community first,” said Hoium. “’What is good for our students?’ is something I heard her ask often.”

School Board Member John Larkin noted Kelly’s car was often the last one to leave the lot at night. “I have had the opportunity to work with Kathy directly and indirectly for a long time: as a parent, through the fire department, and as a member of the school board,” he said. “I have always known her to be personable and seemingly dedicated to her job, but something I didn't realize until I became a school board member, is just how dedicated she was. Not just to her job but more importantly, to the students and the District.”

“Kathy Kelly exemplifies strength, wisdom and heart. She has been an incredible mentor to me. Providing unique opportunities to students is what fuels her; from the New York Study Seminar to constructing innovative classroom spaces. She had so many accomplishments during her 22-year tenure here in CHPS. This year I was fortunate to work side by side with Kathy during succession planning.” said Executive Director of Educational Services Zena Stenvik, who will assume the role of Superintendent July 1.

Hoium shared the countless ways the community benefitting from the Superintendent’s commitment to the District. “There are so many great things that happened but some of my best memories are of large accomplishments that have benefited our students and schools. The VH1 Save the Music Foundation grant, Medal of Honor visit, Country Music Association Foundation grant…Those are once-in-a-lifetime events for everyone involved,” she said. “Personally, the night she put in her application for Superintendent, she told me it would change her live forever and it did. I know she enjoyed it.”

Over her 20+ years with the District, Kelly says she learned a lot. “From the community, build relationships and sustain them over time. People need to listen to one another, see multiple perspectives and through that, gain support. From students, be real and authentic. I’ve learned from staff to be supportive and fair,” she said.

Larkin says he considers Kelly a dear friend, “I have nothing but the utmost respect for her as both a Superintendent and as a person. I will be forever grateful for the fact that our paths crossed in the manner that they did.”

“[Kelly] was committed to building excellence and opportunity in our District,” said Berkas. “Her leadership has been the driving force in getting many big things done and she leaves behind a strong legacy of which she can be very proud.”

As she leaves the helm, Kelly said she hopes for financial stability of the District in a time of a pandemic. “We have always used our money wisely, but we are all in this together. I know Superintendent Stenvik and the School Board will continue to work together. We are stronger together with no regrets.”

“Columbia Heights Federation of Teachers, Local 710, honors Superintendent Kathy Kelly’s career with CHPS,” said Highland PreK Teacher and Local 710 President Karissa Ouren. “We appreciate her commitment to our students, families and staff.  With gratitude, we wish her the very best in retirement.”

Stenvik noted that Kelly seems to have an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm for all things CHPS. “She has instilled Heights Pride across the District and we will be forever grateful.”