Karna Kelly is wasting no time working to inspire North Douglas Elementary School students and teachers to reach new heights this year.
After 11 years as a Douglas County assistant principal, Kelly was promoted last year to succeed Fran Davis as the school’s 2018-2019 principal.
“I wanted to serve as a principal in Douglas County,” Kelly said. “When I was selected, it was really exciting to me.”
She said the biggest adjustment she had to make was managing her time – making sure she spent time on activities like observing teachers or interacting with students rather than remaining in her office all day.
“The main thing is I’m very protective of my time,” she said.
“I try to be as visible as possible,” she said. “I make sure that I am wherever students are, whether it is the cafeteria, media center or the playground. The students are my No. 1 priority.
“You have to make children believe in themselves,” she said.
Having time to meet with parents also is essential, Kelly said.
“Making time for the valued members of the community is essential to the growth and our quest for excellence,” she said.
Kelly also said she had to adjust to a school staff looking to her to keep the school on course rather than her being part of a group looking to someone else for guidance.
“There is lots of responsibility,” Kelly said. “All of this falls on you now. Whatever happens in the school is your brand.”
Kelly has worked in school districts with varying kinds of outside challenges for students since the early 1990s.
She began her career as a special education teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School, a Title I school in south DeKalb County.
Kelly moved on to Atlanta City Schools where she worked as an instructional coach for four years at Connally Elementary and Kennedy Middle schools. The position put her in the role of a sort of master teacher and coach for other teachers.
In 2006, she moved to the Douglas County School System and served as an assistant principal at Lithia Springs and Mt. Carmel elementary schools before replacing Fran Davis as principal at North Douglas.
She said one of her major responsibilities in her new job at the 600-student school is as a motivator for the teachers and “getting them excited about learning.”
“I have high expectations,” she said. “It takes having a focus – staying true to a vision.”
Kelly also is working to build relationships with the community and parents — which she called “another key and valued stakeholder.”
“It’s been very rewarding,” she said. “Even the parents I’ve met tell me they’re happy with the enthusiasm.”
She said she is working to get a “buy-in” from parents in such areas as school attendance so they know the importance of their children attending school and remaining there the entire day.
Kelly said she wants to “add value” to the school by using her “own unique set of skills and dispositions” and experience to “move it from good to great.”
The veteran educator has 24 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in three different school districts. She also has certifications in early childhood and middle grades education, special education, reading and math.
“These experiences, combined with my zest for growing our young scholars, have positioned me to be the best fit for NDES at this time,” she said.
North Douglas is a Title I school, meaning it is eligible to receive federal funding assistance through the state based on a high number of low-income students.
Kelly said she understands both she and the school are being measured in one way based on raw test scores which she is responsible for improving.
The school also has been designated in recent years as a “Beating the Odds” school, meaning its students scored “higher than would be predicted” on standardized tests all Georgia public school students take “based on its school characteristics, such as the makeup of the student body, grades served, and enrollment,” according to the Georgia Department of Education.
She said one of her challenges is finding how her staff can teach and motivate differently to increase student performance.
“Now I have to stay ahead of the game,” she said.
She added she represents the objectives of Superintendent Trent North to move every school from “good to great.”