Severna Park Middle School students have a new face greeting them this year with Dennis Kelly taking over as principal.
The Crofton native brings nearly two decades of experience to his new position but has no intention of reinventing any wheels at one of the top-rated schools in the county.
“My short-term goal is to continue the success that’s occurred in this middle school long before I got here. Everybody in this community knows that this is a great school,” Kelly said.
Kelly graduated from Arundel High School in 1997, before heading off to St. Mary’s College to study economics and play lacrosse. One summer during college, he discovered a passion that would lead him toward his career as an educator.
“I coached lacrosse camps for Nike one summer as a summer job,” Kelly said. “Everyone gravitated toward the high school age group at the camp - older, more mature, more competitive - and I just gravitated toward the middle schoolers. One, because nobody else went there, but also just because I’ve always spoken the language of adolescence.”
While it’s not offered on any curriculum, yet, he said that becoming fluent is simple.
“The language of adolescence actually is just less talking and more listening. If you ask open-ended questions to adolescents, all they want to do is talk,” he explained. “They want to share their thoughts. They want to share their feelings. They want to share their experiences, because they want to know that these are the right things to do in the real world. They want that assurance.”
Kelly believes that empowering students and giving them a voice is an important aspect of his role. He plans to leverage outlets like student government or a principal's advisory group, which can be impactful tools for the students and the administrators. Everything is aimed at supporting a school culture of social and emotional growth that will prepare students to be confident and capable.
“I think preparing kids for independence is what all parents want,” he said. “I want my kids to be functioning young adults, so that when they get to high school, they’re able to pursue their goals and dreams.”
As for the school year, Kelly plans to keep it simple and is excited to get started.
“I just need to watch, learn, listen, talk to people and over the course of the year start to put a longer-term vision in place,” he said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to build relationships with the staff and the students to create a positive start to our school year.