Some of the Kelly School Community. Photo: Dennis Barnebey
Principal Alia Dickerson. Photo:Greg Wooten

It’s Principal Alia Dickerson’s first year at John B. Kelly School, but within that short time she’s worked with staff and the community to bring exciting partnerships, inside and outside improvements, as well as big academic goals to the school. 

“In terms of my leadership, I am a collaborator,” said Dickerson.  “And so I collaborate with staff, I collaborate with students, I collaborate with families, because I know how important it is for the community and for various stakeholders to support our school goals and to support our children. And so not one person can do it alone. I lead in collaboration.”

Kelly School is a public kindergarten through fifth grade school in Southwest Germantown. 

Collaborations are a huge part of how Principal Dickerson, staff, and the families of Kelly are accomplishing some of their academic and other goals. Dickseron said one major goal was bolstering attendance. The school district has created attendance initiatives, and Dickerson has worked with her team of teachers and staff to make sure the students feel loved and connected which helps with getting students to school every day. 

Another goal she is working on with staff is supporting the new Illustrative Mathematics program that they are teaching. According to Dickerson, it’s a “problem based math program where the teachers collaborate, and they are in more of a facilitator stance with the students.” Professional development was provided to help the staff teach through the new program, but there was family engagement as well.

Camille Poinvil, whose oldest daughter attends Kelly School and who also volunteers for the Kelly Green Project at the school, said the school offered an in person introduction to the new program with families and provided coffee and bagels for everyone. They also provided additional resources, and how parents and caregivers could use math in everyday settings that they might not think about. “I liked that I was able to use the same tools with my four-year old too,” said Poinvil. 

Poinvil also points to the new afterschool programs offered at Kelly School as another addition they enjoy about the school community. Her daughter is in the drama club and will put on a play by the end of the school year. The afterschool programs are part of the collaborative and partnership process Dickerson and her team are working on. The school is collaborating with local business Zhang Sah to provide martial arts classes, Johnson & Johnson for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Day and STEM family fun night, and other local businesses and organizations for other possible programming and support. 

Another big project that Kelly School has brought partnerships out on is their school library. 

“We have a fully functioning library where students come in and they’re able to select books,” said Dickerson. “ It’s a whole electronic checkout system, and it’s all volunteer based. And so our volunteers come in, they support the library, and then they also support the reading buddies program. We’ve seen a lot of community members come out to help support that initiative and that partnership.”

One of their biggest community partnerships is their Kelly Green Project, their outside initiative that according to their website is “strengthening Southwest Germantown’s quality of life by building a healthy play and outdoor educational space for John B. Kelly School children, families, and neighbors”.  Poinvil is their parent lead for their Kelly School Garden, and says they are trying to incorporate the garden space into the classroom activities as much as possible, including classroom teachers adopting their own garden bed. The outside project is supported by the local Hansberry Garden, a community garden and also a certified non-profit. The school is also in the process of getting a new playground. 

In general, Dickerson says her ideal vision of community and neighborhoods working with schools is having ongoing conversation and communication, knowing what your local school’s goals are, and seeing where your resources or strengths can come in to support their goals. She reminds families in the area that kindergarten registration is happening now, and interested folks can make appointments with the front office and take tours of the school. 

 “I can say that every staff member here really cares about the students. They go above and beyond for the students, and we do for the students whatever it is that they need,” said Dickerson. “We try to remove whatever barriers we can that’s within our locus of control. And so for me, that not so much was a surprise, but it really tugged on my heartstrings as a leader that whenever an individual is called upon to do something, our staff, they just do it, whatever it is, for our students.”