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Kelly charts the course for schools

Tim Kelly does not see his chairman's post as a bully pulpit -- and he intends to keep it that way.

"I would never want it to even appear like I was trying to dictate the conversation," said the Red Wing School Board member, who has led the panel since 2006.

His actions tend to back up that claim. At meetings, Kelly generally hangs back while fellow School Board members debate issues. His style leans more toward interjecting, rather than ranting, sometimes waiting until debate draws to a close before offering his opinion.

"I've always thought of it as a team approach," Kelly said.

Supt. Stan Slessor often works closely with Kelly, most recently during negotiations with the teachers union. Slessor praised Kelly's temperament and dedication as a leader.

"I think he's able to bring about consensus, which is a real skill," Slessor said.

Nevertheless, the first-term chairman has his own vision for the district in 2008 -- a year that presents considerable challenges.

The year ahead

Kelly sees four key focus areas, beginning with student achievement. He said that means concentrating on high standards, rigorous curriculum and retaining quality teachers.

Classroom focus

Acknowledging the tight financial spot the district is in, Kelly said the proper allocation of resources is goal No. 2. He wants to see policy and budget directly support teaching and learning.

A watchful eye

Next, Kelly said the district should begin monitoring the results of those allocations. Teacher and student achievement needs to be closely followed and held accountable, he believes.

Administrators could more easily identify areas of improvement with up-to-date reports, he said.

"I think we have to be a little quicker to react to the data we have," he said.

And not just those students who excel or struggle: "We need that focus on the entire student body achievement," Kelly said.

The big one

But it's Kelly's final goal that addresses what undoubtedly will be the board's biggest hurdle this year: the referendum. The key to building support, he said, will be engaging the community through education and participation.

"They need to feel their dollars are worthy of supporting us," Kelly said.

He remains troubled by the state funding formula, which in recent years has shipped fewer dollars toward more rural districts like Red Wing than metro schools. In turn, the district has to lean more heavily on local taxpayers -- a system that Kelly said is in desperate need of repair.

"Until the formula gets fixed, we need to do it locally," he said of funding solutions.

Still, Kelly believes the board is well equipped to handle the challenges.

"This board is one of the strongest boards that has been put together" in Red Wing, he said.