By Morgan Dawson
Amidst a year of great change, MIHS welcomes its new principal, Walter Kelly. Kelly hails from the Highland Park school district in Dallas, and MIHS will mark his fourth position as a principal.
“I was ten years in the current position that I am leaving and was really looking for a place where I could find a new challenge and a place to learn,” Kelly said. “What I hope to do here is find a space where my experience and skill set will match with the priorities of the school community.”
The limitations posed by COVID-19 have made the transition between principals an unconventional process. Though the pandemic has forced Kelly to do most of his initial communication online, he is settling into the community and looking forward to getting a more up-close introduction to the district.
“I am really looking forward to coming up to the area this summer and talking with students, teachers, administrators and community leaders to hear what is important to you guys so that I can start to see what things I can bring to the table or what I can enhance or support that is already in place,” he said.
A lover of nature, Kelly also looks forward to participating in Washington state’s ‘outdoorsy’ culture. In high school and early college, he was a competitive tennis player, and he later became an avid cyclist.
“If you put me outdoors, I am a happier human being, so I really am excited about being in the general Pacific Northwest,” Kelly said.
Making the move from Texas to Mercer Island means not only a change of scenery but also a change of social and political dynamic.
“One of the reasons that Mercer Island, as a school and area, is appealing to me is because of the open-mindedness that Texans aren’t always known for,” Kelly said. “Texas is definitely a little behind the west coast; however, it is not as stereotypically conservative and hardlined as I think a lot of people perceive.”
In reality, Kelly’s previous school district holds many parallels to Mercer Island’s.
“One of the interesting things about where I used to work, is that it’s a very educated community, with a large student body and a wide range of perspectives. In many ways, it really is similar to MIHS.”
With over a decade of experience under his belt, Kelly has a lot of ideas that he is ready to bring to MIHS.
“One of the things that experience does provide is a little bit better of a template,” he said. “I want to see what this school is hoping to accomplish, so that we can start working together toward continuing what you already value and changing what you want to have different.”
With welcoming a new principal, comes saying goodbye to another. After eight years as principal of MIHS, Vicki Puckett is confident in turning the keys over to Kelly.
“Talking with him online, I felt at ease,” Puckett said. “I’ve worked really hard as principal to make sure that the school is left in good hands. Mr. Kelly is definitely kid-centered and has done a lot of work in equity and diversity, which is an area that I know he truly values.”
Back in Dallas, Kelly worked with students in developing the Race to End Racism initiative, in partnership with about 30 other schools. Coming to Mercer Island – a community that has long struggled to embrace diversity – this dedication to diversity issues will prove extremely timely.
“When you look at highly selective universities, they talk about ‘crafting a class’ and I think that hiring and developing a faculty is very much along those lines,” Kelly said. “How do you put the pieces together with perspective, skills, background and personal understanding to not only reflect our student body but to also forward and expand our way of thinking.”
Entering the district during a very unusual time will also come with many other new challenges. When considering tough decisions on topics such as going back to school, alternate learning methods and grading, Kelly has one goal that he keeps in mind.
“We have to create an environment where students feel safe emotionally and academically to take risks,” he said. “We need to find joy in the work we do as learners. If there is not joy in what we are learning, the rest of it is just incidental.”
This positive outlook on learning speaks to Kelly’s “kid-centered” approach and his clear commitment to student growth, both academic and social-emotional, something the District has prioritized.
Kelly’s appointment as principal went into effect July 1, and he is more than ready to take on this new role, just as the Mercer Island community is more than ready to welcome him.