Triton Superintendent Bob Kelly will be retiring in December. Photo by Ruth Hanson
by Ruth Hanson
It was 14 years ago that Bob Kelly left his position as principal at Byron High School to take the helm as superintendent at Triton.
"This will be my fifty-seventh first day of school - and I think my last," he said, smiling. "I have been in education 39 years altogether. I will retire December 20."
His first day of school was at Mabel-Canton, where he met his wife Lisa and where he graduated in 1970. He went to Rochester State Junior College, where he played on the offensive line on the football team for a quarter. He transferred to South Dakota State University where he played football briefly.
His dad became ill and Kelly went home to work in construction and be near his father. That is when he married his high school sweetheart. He finished his bachelor's degree at Winona State College majoring in teaching social studies and coaching with a phy ed minor.
His first job was in Rochester where he was a long term sub, teaching geography at Central Junior High. He finished the year in Grand Meadow - and signed a contract with Byron to teach social studies the first day he was there.
He was a classroom teacher in Byron for eight years as well as the head football coach and a couple of years the head coach of girls basketball. The next eight years he was the athletic director and assistant principal. The last eight years he was the principal at the intermediate school and junior high. The last three years in Byron he was the principal of the high school.
"Then I came to Triton and it has been a good run," he said. "It was a good move for me professionally. I think the people in this district understand how much the staff cares about their kids - that they are entrusting the school with the most important possession they have - from the bus drivers to the superintendent."
He smiled again and said that he is hoping for no snow days in December. He doesn't want to have to get up and make decisions about whether to call off school.
The Kellys have three children.
Ryan and his wife Heather have a daughter named Alexa, who is 10 and a son, Owen who is 7. Ryan is a hospital administrator in Wichita, Kansas.
Their daughter Megan and her husband Travis have two sons - Tyson, 4; and Griffon Robert, 1. She is a physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic.
Their daughter Bridget plans to marry Reggie in May. She lives in the Twin Cities and works for Metro Dental.
Lisa retired from the Mayo Clinic two years ago.
Reflections on construction
He couldn't help smiling again as he said that the Triton school District is just finishing Phase Three of an ambitious construction project.
"Several years ago we put on new outside covering where exposed aggregate used to be, as well as insulation," he said. "It looks decidedly better now."
And they built a bus barn so the school buses would not have to sit outside.
"We gradually changed the configuration of classes to adopt a middle school concept," he said.
Then began the three phases of a major construction project.
Phase One - in 2005 - was redoing all the science labs, making them all brand new and upgraded and including heating and new ventilation systems for the entire building.
Phase Two - in 2008 - was built with lease levy funding from the state plus money that the school district saved from money saved from going to one site.
"We got the work done for 25 percent less than the original estimate," Kelly said.
He and the board did some figuring. They took into consideration that the present building was built in 1998 with a 20 year bond, which was scheduled to be paid off in 2018. What if taxpayers continued paying the same money for 20 more years? The plan would raise $9.5 million dollars without raising taxes.
The vote passed convincingly - and the bids came in 20 percent under the estimate.
"It was the back end of the economic downturn, with the lowest interest rates in this century," Kelly explained. "That meant that we could do more than we had anticipated."
The public is invited to see the results on Sunday, September 22, from 2-4 p.m.
Phase Three includes:
two new secure entrances, one at the high school and one at the elementary
14 new "state of the art" elementary classrooms of which six are larger for kindergarten
a new elementary art room, meaning no more art on carts
a new elementary lunchroom and serving area
a new middle school media center and computer lab
a new ag and drafting classroom
two new industrial tech shops, one for woodworking and one for metal work, both with overhead entrance doors
a new receiving area for delivered supplies
new music areas for middle school and high school that include a new choir room and a new band room along with instrument storage and office space
a new middle school gym with seating
a new multipurpose room
a new lobby for entrance into the competition gym that has new restrooms and concession areas
a totally refurbished competition gym
a new fitness center and locker room update
a new parking lot and student drop off for the elementary
a new walking path around the middle and elementary schools
all that along with a new performing arts area that was opened last spring
"We're pretty happy with it," Kelly said in what might be the biggest understatement in his 14 years. "I think the taxpayers will be happy and proud.
"The bottom line is that we have had very good, consistent support from our school board members. Two of them - Lloyd Henslin and Terry Selthun - have been with me the whole time. It's just been a good board."
He added that what he has found at Triton is that the board and the public lets the administration be administrators "and they don't try to call the shots. They expect you to do the job - and do it."
He said that there have been excellent principals in his time at Triton. Brett Joyce, the high school principal, and Craig Schlichting, the middle school principal, have been on the job all 14 years with Nancy Stucky, the elementary principal, has been on the job for 12 years. Deb Meeker, the business manager, has done an A plus job all through the years.
"It makes the superintendent's job lots easier when you don't have to keep training principals," he said. "And I try to look at the superintendent's job like running a business. I have to be careful to separate wants from needs."
He said that one huge change in his time at Triton is the technology.
"Financially and facility-wise, we will be leaving the district in a good financial situation," he said. "And that's not because we haven't paid the teachers well. We have one of the best pay scales in the area."
One of the highlights of his time at Triton has been passing the bond issues and levy overrides.
"Each graduation has been a highlight," he said. "It's hard to see the seniors go. The kids who graduated this year were kindergärtners my first year."
And his plans for the future?
His grandfather came from Ireland, but Kelly has never been to the Emerald Isle. A trip there is in his future plans. So is Bridget's wedding in May. Utah and Oregon are the only two states in this country where he hasn't been. He intends to see them.
"And I will continue to enjoy being a grandpa," he said. "And I will work on my golf game. I think Lisa will probably have some things for me to do, too."
They plan to stay in their home in Dodge Center during nice weather here, but they have a place in Florida waiting for the winters.