After a rocky first semester for Madison’s Jefferson Middle School, its interim principal assured parents Thursday she’ll work to address their concerns about safety.
“Here’s what I’m going to promise you, I am always going to be available to you,” said Mary Kelley. “I’m always going to be visible. I’m in the classrooms, I’m in the hallways.”
About three dozen parents showed up to a meeting about the school’s climate and culture, where Kelley outlined what the school would be focusing on and changing during the second semester.
Kelley, a retired Madison principal who most recently spent seven years at East High School, was named the interim head of the West Side middle school last month after the former principal, Tequila Kurth, told the district she was taking an extended leave of absence.
Kurth’s leave came after criticisms and concerns about the school environment.
In December, two 13-year-old boys from Jefferson were arrested, one for shooting a BB gun out of a bus window and the other for bringing the BB gun inside the school the next day.
Two girls, ages 13 and 14, were struck by BBs as they were getting off the bus.
Last month, a Jefferson student suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital after being punched by a classmate he said had been bullying him.
Kelley, who started as interim principal on Monday, said the concerns the district has been hearing about Jefferson this year centered on school safety, timely communication with parents, staffing and the overall culture at the 550-student school.
She said the school would work to ensure there is always adult supervision in hallways before, during and after classes.
“I went out and bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes, because I’m a very visible principal,” Kelley joked. “It’s important for students to see the principal.”
She said if there are incidents that occur at either Jefferson or Memorial High School, which is adjacent to the middle school, parents need to be told about them right away. Kelley also spoke to highlighting more positive stories happening in the school.
Larry Love, the school’s assistant principal, said the school is also looking to rebuild its schedule to focus on getting smaller class sizes. He said the school would also conduct “empathy interviews” with students and parents to find out what their needs are.
Many of the concerns Kelley listed were reflected in small group conversations parents had, such as staff turnover and setting high academic and behavior expectations for students.
“I went out and bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes, because I’m a very visible principal.” Mary Kelley, Jefferson Middle School
"I went out and bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes, because I'm a very visible principal."
Mary Kelley, Jefferson Middle School