Two years after announcing that he has a brain tumor and months after being sidelined by an unrelated illness, the superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools has said he would like a two-year extension when his contract expires next summer.
Edward L. Kelly -- who recently ended his 17th school year as head of the district, which has 64,000 students -- is the longest-serving superintendent in the Washington area and among the longest in Virginia. He must notify the School Board officially by September if he wants to continue in the job; the board has until Sept. 30 to notify him of its decision.
"I'm not finished with the things I'd like to do," said Kelly, 62, including extending all-day kindergarten to all elementary schools and reexamining the physical fitness programs to deal with obesity. "I think I'm operating right now as well as I ever had. I'm operating at 100 percent. I'm as sharp now as I've ever been, and I think I could go two more years."
School Board members have not said publicly what they plan to do. All express a great respect for Kelly, and all say his capable staff members have helped keep his more recent medical absences from creating problems for the school system. Privately, some have said that his health concerns them, and others have wondered whether it is time for fresh ideas.
"Everybody on this School Board loves Dr. Kelly," said Grant Lattin (Occoquan). "This will be one of the most important decisions that the School Board will have to do."
Michael Otaigbe (Coles) said, "We have to give him credit for what he has done for the school division for the past 17-plus years. " But he added that "this school division is quite different from when he came in. We have some decisions to make."
Kelly's tumor was diagnosed in September 2002 after he suffered a seizure. He took no time off work while he underwent treatment, and he remains on a regimen of anti-seizure medication and travels to Johns Hopkins Hospital once a month for an MRI to make sure the tumor hasn't grown. Kelly said his doctor has told him there's no need to operate now.
"I may have had this for a good number of years, and it's just now raising its ugly head," Kelly said. Because the tumor seems to be stable, he said, his doctors have suggested a conservative approach.
"Anytime you operate, accidents can happen, especially when you operate on the brain," Kelly said. "You don't want to operate unless the risk is worth it."
The trips to Hopkins do not interfere with his schedule, he said. Usually, he leaves after work and may spend the night, returning to the county the next morning, he said.
His health became an issue again in November, when he developed a serious infection after a hernia operation in which, he said, the surgeon nicked his bowel. What was intended to be an overnight stay turned into a month in the hospital while he battled sepsis. He spent three months recuperating at a rehabilitation center and then at home. He attended School Board meetings again beginning in late January.
Until his full-time return in March, the school system was run by Robert Ferrebee, former associate superintendent for management. Ferrebee, who retired this year after more than 30 years with the school system, said that apart from staff members' concern for Kelly -- "He was a very sick man" -- business went on much as usual in his absence.
Board member Betty D. Covington (Dumfries) said she saw no slack while he was recuperating. "He had some strong staff members who know how he thinks and how he makes decisions," she said.
When Kelly returned to work, he was visibly thinner and using a cane. By the end of June, he was cleared by his doctors to drive.
Before that, he had been driven to events and meetings by school staff, his wife or board Chairman Lucy S. Beauchamp (At Large). Kelly joked that it was similar to the movie "Driving Miss Daisy" -- and he was Daisy.
"It's good to have your freedom back," he said, adding that he believes the School Board has noted his returning strength. "I don't think the board will use this as an issue. They'll see how much I have improved since I've come back to work."
Ferrebee said Kelly is working better now than before he went into the hospital. "Can he still do the job? Yes," Ferrebee said, adding with a laugh, "I don't see why he still wants to."
Having relied heavily on his experienced staff this year, Kelly said goodbye to several longtime school employees who retired in June. Now, he said, he looks forward to the chance to work with the ones taking their place.
"The invigorating thing is the new people we have. They are good young kids," he said. "The opportunity to work with them is very inviting."
After a performance review in June, the School Board raised Kelly's salary from $174,000 to $184,266, though he remains among the lowest-paid superintendents in the area. The Howard County superintendent, who oversees 20,000 fewer students, makes $15,000 more.
Like other school districts, Prince William spent the previous year pushing for improvements on the state's Standards of Learning exams, by which the performance of all students -- and all schools -- is measured. And like other districts, it had to cope with the long budget deadlock in the legislature that threatened to hold up school funding. The final budget, however, brought a windfall, which is being used for new classroom programs and building renovations.
The final day of classes will be remembered for the arrest of an armed 12-year-old student and the evacuation of Bull Run Middle School. A few days later, a second child was arrested for allegedly conspiring with the boy. Police and parents gave the school system generally high marks for its handling of the situation, which included following lockdown procedures for which teachers and staff had drilled.
Concerning policy, the School Board restructured and lengthened the elementary school day to match neighboring jurisdictions, created an alternative education program designed to reduce expulsions, and created a full-day kindergarten program at 18 schools for half of the county's poorest students. School Board members have called the past year one of their busiest.
"If we had any more new ideas," Beauchamp joked, "we'd be in trouble."