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Morgan Kelly knows well the impact an educator can have on a student.
Today, she’s a positive role model to at-risk kids as the assistant principal of Ozark School District’s North Elementary. Growing up, she was the one who needed that helping hand.
“My parents were divorced, and it was a very hostile environment,” she says. “I had teachers that I knew cared about me, and I felt safe going to school and knowing that I could trust them. It’s really important to me that students come to school and know they have adults that care about them.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but that influence would chart the course of her career.
A pivotal moment was in 2003, during her senior year at Nixa High School, when school Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith said to her, “Let me know when you decide to go into education.” Kelly switched her major to education in her first year at Drury University.
She went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as her doctorate in education. All this as the first member of her family to earn a college degree.
Kelly taught various subjects for middle and elementary school kids in Spokane and Nixa school districts before joining the administration of the 650-student North Elementary in 2015.
In her role, she handles much of the discipline for students and says that serves as a teaching opportunity. She also helps kids struggling with behavioral issues get plugged into extracurricular activities, and she helps families get scholarships when money is tight.
“Kids come to school for academic purposes. But as a public school, we’re handling much more than academics,” Kelly says. “We work really hard to educate the whole child: socially, emotionally and academically. We’re prepping them for how to behave in society.”
She recently worked with a fifth-grade student who was struggling in math and met a goal set out by her teacher. She shared with the student that she once received an F in math, but teachers helped her make it through.
“That’s why I think I connect so well to these kids. I understand what it’s like to have someone fighting for you,” she says. “No matter where you start, you are capable of doing anything.”
In her role, she says it’s critical to engage parents and guardians in their kid’s education. She helps navigate through nontraditional home environments, too, such as students raised by grandparents and in blended families. To bring families together, she helped establish a game night at the school.
“It’s the most successful thing we’ve done to get families to interact with their kids,” she says. “We’re going to make it a yearly event.”
Lately, she says public teachers and administrators have had to defend themselves against critics. But Kelly is quick to say how proud she is of her colleagues.
“There are amazing teachers, principals and custodian staff working with kids every single day,” she says. “It’s our goal to educate the whole child. It truly takes a village to help raise these kids.”
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