Edward L. Kelly, 63, is the longest-serving school superintendent in the Washington area, having presided over Prince William County's system for 18 years. Kelly, who will retire at the end of this week, talked with staff writer Ian Shapira about his career.
QWhat will you miss and not miss about the job?
AI'll miss the people with whom I've worked. I've worked with talented and skilled people. The things I won't miss are the difficult decisions that you have to make that will not make anyone happy, like boundary decisions where nobody wins.
Prince William has changed considerably since you first took the job in 1987, from a slow-growing county to a booming, increasingly affluent and more diverse area. What do you believe helped the school system accommodate that change the most?
We worked with the state to do a good job of planning and developed a working relationship with the county government to create a five-year budget plan so we could resolve how much county revenue would come to the school system. We also made a conscious effort to recruit minority teachers. And we made an effort to close the achievement gap between nonwhite and white students and having individual schools develop their own plans to do that.
Your retirement this year is not something you initially wanted, and you have said that you would have preferred staying on for another year or so. But the School Board felt it was time for a change. Are there problems that you would still like to solve if you had the chance?
We still lose too many kids who drop out and don't make it, and we need to strengthen the academic performance of our middle school program.
Last year, a 12-year-old stormed into Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville and threatened to shoot people with a loaded rifle. His parents say he was angry after being bullied incessantly, which has prompted parents to examine whether enough is being done to curtail bullying across the county. Do you think that the schools could do more, and if so, what?
I think that's a very poor excuse for what he did. Kids have always been teased. When somebody teases a kid about wearing thick glasses and calls him "four eyes," is that bullying? You just can't stop every instance. It has been blown out of proportion, in my opinion, and there was never anything that led us to believe he was being bullied beforehand.
Do you think there is a charter school model that could work in Prince William?
I think we already have charter schools, except they're not called charter schools and we don't have private organizations running them. Our specialized schools [in biotechnology, performing arts and environmental science, for example] give parents the opportunity to have a choice. I've always thought it was kind of a crazy idea that children should go to school based on an attendance zone. They ought to go based on the type of instructional program parents want their children to receive.
You recently played in a golf tournament that raised money to fund a scholarship in your name. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a graduating senior who wants to be a teacher. More important, how did you play?
I was 8 under. No, I'm lying to you [laughter]. No, I forgot the score.