Catholic director looking forward to challenges ahead

On her first day on the job Monday, Mary-Catherine Kelly was meeting her new co-workers, learning to use the office e-mail system, and looking at two huge folders full of documents to read to get her up to speed on her new position as director of education for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
But despite the many new tasks before her, Kelly was upbeat and energetic—and even took time out of her busy schedule to sit down for an interview with the Times.
“I’m quite excited. This is a new adventure for me,” enthused Kelly, who had arrived in Fort Frances less than 24 hours before.
Coming from the Durham Catholic District School Board in Oshawa, where she served as the superintendent of education, Kelly awoke in her hotel room at La Place Rendez-Vous on Monday morning to see the sun rise over Rainy Lake.
“The sunrise was gorgeous,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be here, and it made me feel I made the right decision to come here.”
Kelly’s experience in education has taken her through much of the “Golden Horseshoe” in southwestern Ontario, from teaching physical education in Toronto to serving as a vice-principal in Welland and serving as a principal in Peterborough.
Though she’s never lived in the northwest, Kelly did visit this area back in 2000 when she was president of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario.
“I was so impressed with the scenery, the welcoming nature,” she said.
“I was impressed with how dedicated the staff were, how hard-working. They didn’t have lots of resources the way you would have in Toronto,” she added, noting people here have to be resourceful and creative.
Her impressions from that first visit helped cement the decision to make the move here. “I felt very welcomed here,” Kelly said.
Picking up and moving to unfamiliar territory is not an entirely new experience for Kelly. After high school, she attended Florida State University in Tallahassee on a sports scholarship, where she earned her Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Education degrees.
“In the 1970s, it was not common for women to be offered sports scholarships in the U.S.,” she noted.
Kelly had been on the provincial track and field team for years, and was a national record holder. Her events were the 200m and 400m hurdles.
“My experience there [in Florida] was really great,” she recalled. “I guess maybe that’s where my wanderlust came from.”
Kelly then returned to Ontario and earned her Master’s of Education degree in educational administration through the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
Her qualifications also include religious education, special education, a coaching education degree, and an honours specialist qualification in physical education from the University of Toronto.
At the Durham board, Kelly was responsible for 25 elementary and secondary schools, and was in charge of program, French as a Second Language, and continuing education.
Though she was happy at her previous job, Kelly said she was tempted by the promise of new challenges.
“Taking a directorship is very exciting,” she enthused. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to help shape the system.”
Having served as a principal for 17 years, Kelly said she does miss the day-to-day contact with children, but added she draws inspiration from being in a position to help shape the direction their education will take down the road.
Even on her first day, Kelly had some clear ideas in mind with where she wanted to go with the local board.
“I have to connect with all the stakeholders and see what their needs and goals are,” she noted. “It’s important we share that vision together and that everyone takes ownership of it.
“We don’t need to re-invent the wheel,” she stressed. “This board is moving well. They’ve done a great job, and are very progressive around literacy and numeracy.
“These are things that are already underway and working well. My job is to try and support and enhance that.”
Being the head of a Catholic school board, part of the job is ensuring Catholicity is incorporated into all aspects of education.
“We’ll have on-going faith development of children and staff to continue the Gospel message,” she noted.
Though she has visited some of the schools already, Kelly said she was looking forward to visiting the rest, including Sacred Heart in Sioux Lookout.
Kelly is taking over the directorship from Dr. Laurie Bizero, who submitted her resignation last year after less than 10 months with the local board.
Dr. Bizero’s predecessor, John Madigan, returned to the position on an interim basis over seven months until a permanent replacement could be found.
The Catholic board oversees five elementary schools in Fort Frances, Stratton, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout.