Princeton school officials announced on Thursday afternoon that Carol Kelley, the superintendent of a PreK-eighth grade district in the Chicago area, has been selected to lead the Princeton Public Schools. She will begin her new post as superintendent on July 1. She will be the second African American named to the top post in Princeton’s public schools. Edith Francis was the first African American superintendent for the Princeton school district.
Kelley will be paid $240,000 per year to lead the district that serves about 3,800 students.
In an unusual move, an announcement was made about the hire before the school board actually takes a vote on the move at a special public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday night. The agenda for the special meeting was not posted on the district’s website as of 3:45 p.m. on Thursday.
Kelley is completing her sixth year as the superintendent of schools of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, a PreK-8 public school district located just outside of Chicago. The district has eight elementary schools and two middle schools and serves about 6,000 students. Officials said that in her current position, she has earned praise for advancing academic excellence and equity for all students, promoting evidence-based teaching practices, and developing measures of effectiveness.
“We are delighted to have identified such a talented and accomplished educator to lead the Princeton public schools at this crucial time,” said Board of Education President Beth Behrend in a prepared statement about the hire. “We remain committed to the pursuit of equity and academic excellence in an environment that supports the success of all of our students, preparing them for lives of joy and purpose. Dr. Kelley shares our vision and values; her passion, intellect, and experience will help us deliver on this commitment, benefitting our students for years to come.”
Kelley previously served as the superintendent of schools in Branchburg Township from 2012 to 2015. She has held numerous positions in other New Jersey public schools, including serving as the director of curriculum and instruction for the Hunterdon Central Regional High School District in Flemington, as principal of Milltown Elementary School in Bridgewater, as K-12 supervisor of mathematics in the Franklin Township Public Schools, assistant principal of Franklin Park Elementary School and the Sampson G. Smith Middle School in Franklin Township, and as a teacher at the Smith Middle School.
An engineer by training, Kelley earned a bachelor’s degree in systems science engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Virginia. She began her career working on cell phones and smart card technology for Bell Atlantic and then developing marketing strategy and packaging in the advanced care product division at Johnson & Johnson. She began teaching in 1994, she said, because of her belief in the power of public education to improve the lives of all students. She earned her doctorate in organizational and educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005.
“I am honored to join PPS as your new superintendent,” Kelley said in a written statement. “The district’s long legacy of academic excellence, deep commitment to helping all students find their own pathways to success, diverse student body, and core values of innovation in education are just a few of the reasons why this opportunity excites me. Also, the ability to move back to Central New Jersey to be near my family, friends, and colleagues feels like a dream come true. I am looking forward to meeting and partnering with the students, staff, and families. Together, we will carry forward Princeton Public Schools’ vision.”
School officials said that at Oak Park, Kelley developed the community engagement strategy that yielded a vision statement and five-year strategic plan for the district. They said she also reorganized the administration “to promote the effectiveness of school principals in building safe, equitable, and successful learning environments and created new positions to support achievement, equity, and inclusion for all students.” They said she also drove the implementation of standardized math and literacy curricula in the early grades and increased the percentage of students projected college-ready in mathematics by 11 percent, promoted the use of research in decisions about curriculum and teaching materials, and expanded the co-teaching model in the elementary schools to integrate special education students and redesign the gifted program to advance equity. She also established an instructional coach role to enable teachers to leverage and improve the instructional core.
Officials said Kelley also passed a comprehensive racial and educational equity policy and developed programs to help eliminate opportunity gaps. She partnered with the National Equity Project to support a district equity design team that works to improve the school experiences of African American students and increased the percentage of new teacher hires of color from 27% in the 2017 school year to 37% in the 2019 school year.
Kelley has served as a member of the executive board of the Minority Student Achievement Network, as well as the National Equity Project’s Midwest Network. She is a fellow of the Racial Equity Leadership Network of the Southern Education Foundation and is an active member of the School Superintendents Association, having participated in its national superintendent certification program and the national principals’ supervisor cohort.
She raised her sons Jordan and Austin in Montgomery Township and said she is thrilled to be returning home.
Kelley replaces former superintendent Steve Cochrane. Barry Galasso will continue to serve as the interim superintendent until the end of June.
An earlier edition of this story said Kelley would be the first African American superintendent of the school district. In fact, Edith Francis was the first African American superintendent for the Princeton public schools. Planet Princeton regrets the error.