Colleagues Remember Doreen Kelly “Was Ready to Lead”

  • Ravens Rewind
Colleagues Remember Doreen Kelly “Was Ready to Lead”
Karen Lewis Taylor

Four Ravens who were part of Doreen Kelly’s early tenure — search committee chair Lacy Presnell and colleagues Carolyn Everett, Dave Monaco and Bill Pruden — share their memories and insights.

“When we were looking for the next head of school for Ravenscroft, we really wanted someone that would connect the head and heart of the school for our children,” trustee emeritus Frances Pugh — who served on Ravenscroft’s board for more than 50 years — said of the historic 2002 decision to appoint Doreen Kelly as the school’s new leader.

“She had a certain personality to her. I could envision that this is the person that is going to grow with us,” Pugh continued. “And we have grown with her. She has brought us to be the school we are today.”

As Ravenscroft celebrates Kelly’s 21st and final year as Head of School, four Ravens who were part of her hiring and early tenure — search committee chair Lacy Presnell III and Kelly’s colleagues Carolyn Everett, Dave Monaco and Bill Pruden — share their memories and insights from those years.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Kelly walks along the rose arbor with Interim Headmaster Ned Fox Jr. in the winter of 2003 as she prepares to transition to the role of Head of School; Kelly visits with former Headmaster Vernon Hawes and longtime trustee Frances Pugh in this photo from the 2003-04 Annual Report.

Before Doreen Kelly was Ravenscroft’s Head of School, she was the Director of Lower School. In many ways, the school community has Carolyn Everett to thank for that.

Everett was serving as Interim Director of Lower School in the winter of 1999 when she met Doreen Kelly during the search for her successor. Once she told then-Headmaster Jim Ledyard that she thought Kelly was a perfect fit, he moved quickly, sending her and Assistant Director of Lower School Sarah Adams to Trinity-Pawling School in Pawling, New York — where Kelly had served for 10 years as a teacher and coach and in leadership roles in both their middle and upper school divisions — on the eve of an extended holiday break. Everett remembers:

The Trinity-Pawling community was very generous in allowing us to come to their campus knowing we were there to potentially take away one of their highly valued faculty members. Because Doreen held many positions at Trinity-Pawling, we spoke to colleagues in all departments on campus. Every person that we met shared the same admiration for and confidence in Doreen as a leader, an innovator and a teacher. She undoubtedly was the leader for our Lower School.

To our delight, Doreen accepted Dr. Ledyard’s offer to become Director of Lower School.

As it turned out, my time away from Ravenscroft was short-lived. Doreen hired me as a classroom teacher for the 2000-01 school year, and I couldn’t have been happier working for her. However, it wasn’t long before Doreen caught the eye of the full Ravenscroft community. Her extraordinary talents were the perfect match for a new position as the Head of School beginning in July of 2003. I then had the great opportunity to return to my previous position as Director of Lower School under Doreen’s leadership.

My years as a member of her administrative team confirmed my very first impressions of her back in 1999: this was a leader who would bring vision, heart and excellence to Ravenscroft. I will always be proud of that first interview, that trip to New York and the road that led to Doreen’s 21 outstanding years as Ravenscroft’s Head of School.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Kelly, then Director of Lower School, and colleagues Don Beardsley, Chris Harper, Sarah Adams and Bekki Guild share the fun of Halloween in this 2003 Corvus photo; recalling the time a student asked her if she was “the princess of Lower School” — meaning, she believed, “principal” — Kelly passes the crown to successor Carolyn Everett in this 2004 Corvus photo.

Lacy Presnell had already concluded his tenure as chair of the Ravenscroft Board of Trustees when, in the fall of 2001, Ledyard announced his plans to leave Ravenscroft at the end of the school year. As new chair Elbert Boyd Jr. wrote in the 2001-02 Annual Report, “Even though Lacy thought he could retire in peace and tranquility, he agreed to again share his time as chairman of the Headmaster Search Committee.”

Presnell remembers serving with “an excellent committee made up of representatives from the school’s various constituencies” in the national search to find the school’s next leader. Working into the 2002-03 tenure of Interim Headmaster Ned Fox Jr., Presnell and his fellow committee members found their candidate in Kelly. Presnell shares:

The committee was looking for someone with a deep understanding of independent schools and how to work with their different constituencies. The things that drew us to Doreen during the search were that she had a clear vision for Ravenscroft’s future and was a consensus builder — and not just for the sake of reaching consensus: she was very thoughtful in her approach and had a knack for building relationships and bringing people together.

Doreen had a very strong record as the Director of Lower School. She possessed the unique combination of being decisive as a leader but also compassionate in being able to help people understand why a particular decision was made. We believed she showed great potential, and we were unanimous and strong in our belief that she was ready to lead the school.

The committee did not select Doreen to address a particular project or challenge. We discussed the kind of leader we wanted and what Doreen brought to the role. She was an excellent match, particularly considering the breadth of the role of head of school — building budgets, recruiting and hiring outstanding faculty and staff, addressing the thorny issues that can arise with students and parents. It takes a variety of skills to be able to fulfill these responsibilities. It would not have been surprising for Doreen to have had a few bumps in the road in her early tenure, but she hit the ground running and managed the challenges well. Her early performance was outstanding.

We also anticipated that she would become a leader regionally and even nationally at some point. She came to be looked upon by her peers as a leader even earlier than we had expected. We had hoped, too, for a long tenure as our head of school — considering Doreen’s age at the time and her potential — but I don’t think anybody could have expected it to be 20-plus years. It’s been a wonderful gift that she and her family have given to Ravenscroft. The school has been able to achieve many things as a result of her lengthy tenure. Doreen’s leadership will always be an important part of Ravenscroft’s history.

Dave Monaco was Ravenscroft’s Director of Middle School in 2002 — in his words, “still wet behind the ears” — when the search committee announced Kelly had been selected to succeed Fox. As he remembers, it was a time of significant change for the school, as several other key personnel had announced plans to move on as well.

“For many of us left behind — myself and Doreen included — the uneasiness was both palpable and understandable,” he remembers. “Also understandable was the Board’s urgency to find the right leader to steward Ravenscroft forward. The answer, it turned out, was right before everyone’s noses.” Monaco continues:

I don’t remember Doreen’s interview process, never mind “interviewing” her myself. I do remember, though, when Mr. Boyd came to meet with the administrative team to let us know of the trustees’ decision to appoint her. After he introduced Doreen and she took a moment to express her excitement, she did something unexpected: she pulled a handful of small rocks out of her pocket.

Doreen explained how her beloved father, Dick, a man of strong faith, had taught his children an important lesson about humility using this metaphor. Rocks in her pocket keep her grounded, Doreen explained. In sharing this wisdom, Doreen signaled that she would not allow the elevation associated with her new title to change who she was; she intended to walk with us in service to the school.

With these insights provided by my ever-fading memory and the evident legacy resultant of her two-decade tenure, one can understand why Doreen was the right choice to wrap her arms around a somewhat tremulous Ravenscroft community in 2003 and guide it into a new century. She paired professional capability with a deep wellspring of faith. Together, her assets positioned her perfectly to connect Ravenscroft’s head with its heart.

Over two decades, Doreen has deftly balanced keeping the institution grounded — connected to its historical guiding principles — and allowing it to soar so it might evolve and remain relevant in “the complex and interdependent world” referenced in its mission statement. Now, a season of transition approaches once again — for both Doreen and for Ravenscroft. I know I am not alone in hoping both continue to soar!

LEFT TO RIGHT: In this photo from the 2003-04 Annual Report, Kelly and then-Director of Middle School Dave Monaco accept the plaque recognizing Ravenscroft as a 2003 Blue Ribbon School — one of Kelly’s goals since 1999; Kelly celebrates commencement with Jenna Smith ’05 and Ashlee Williams ’05 in this photo from the 2005 Corvus.

Another division director serving alongside Kelly at that time was the Upper School’s Bill Pruden. He, too, recalls a school in transition: “The previous decade had seen a shift in the school’s student population. Not only had we grown, but the balance of enrollment had shifted, with the Upper School boasting the largest enrollment of the three divisions not long after Doreen took office.”

He remembers as well “a team composed for the most part of people [Kelly] had not only worked with side by side but who were, like her, not just educators but also Ravenscroft parents — all devoted to fulfilling the school’s philosophical commitment to developing the total child.” Pruden continues:

With many of us comparatively new to our jobs, there was a shared sense of discovery. And yet the familiarity with Ravenscroft and each other made the transition comparatively easy. Each of the division directors had a lot of autonomy as we searched for the best ways to develop the total child. In the then-smaller school, there was a great sense of connection, something of which we were very protective, especially in the Upper School as we grew into the expanded space offered by Murphy Hall.

In Doreen’s early days as Head of School, we were in many ways a different place. We had fewer students, although growth would become a hallmark of her tenure, and the physical plant was very different. But smaller meant more interaction and familiarity. Unencumbered by bureaucracy, it was a personal place, often referred to as the “Ravenscroft family.” There was a collegial feel, one embodied by Doreen as she walked around the campus checking in with faculty and students alike. At the same time, discussions about the future were ongoing.

The appearance in 2007-08 of a new mission statement and, at the end of 2008-09, the departure of Dave Monaco to become a head of school and the retirement of Caroline Everett marked the end of the first phase of Doreen’s tenure. It had been a productive and memorable period, one that laid the foundation for what was to come.

Ravenscroft Magazine will feature stories that explore and celebrate Doreen Kelly’s extraordinary legacy throughout the year. You may also visit our webpage, Celebrating 21 Years with Head of School Doreen Kelly, for additional tributes and remembrances — including a gratitude board where you may share memories, photos and well-wishes with her.

Above, Doreen Kelly in 2000, when she was Director of Lower School