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Kelly named permanent principal of East Lyme High School

East Lyme — The Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to appoint Deb Roselli Kelly as permanent principal of East Lyme High School, about seven months after unanimously naming her as interim principal.

This is Kelly's 20th year at the school; she started as a part-time counselor in 2001.

"I'd been a full-time mom for a few years and a part-time counseling job was perfect at the time, but ironically, I never intended to be here for long. I thought I wanted to teach kindergarten," she told the board Monday. "Wow, was I wrong. Since then, I've increased my hours, changed titles, moved offices a few times."

Kelly's kids are now grown; her daughter also works as an educator and her son is a town administrator. Kelly told The Day on Wednesday that while she thought she wanted to teach kindergarten, she realized she loves working with young adults.

"They're becoming the adults that they're going to be, and they're very exciting to talk to and to support, and it's a critical time to be on that journey with them," Kelly said. She directed the high school's counseling department from 2011 to 2016 before becoming assistant principal and then interim principal. She also has been the adviser to four graduating classes.

Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said Kelly has "done a marvelous job" through "what's been a fairly turbulent time with COVID."

"She's had a very calm demeanor, and she's been a strong leader, and we have been extremely impressed with her focus, her work with staff and students," he said. Newton added, "Having Deb as the interim through this year has given us an opportunity to watch her, and watch her growth and her leadership potential, and it has far exceeded what we were thinking in a short amount of time."

He said her counseling background helps provide a supportive environment for staff and students, she understands the budget and she has worked well with the two assistant principals.

John Kleinhans, a 2008 graduate of East Lyme High School, said that what Kelly is going to do in the future "is going to be tremendous" and he couldn't be more proud to be sitting on the Board of Education because of her guidance as a guidance counselor. He said her impact to the East Lyme community is "felt amongst generations of East Lyme students."

Kelly is currently focused on getting high school students back into the classroom full time. With cafeteria seating challenges and other troubleshooting that comes with having more than 1,000 students, reopening discussions are ongoing.

Kelly also said she wants to have annual spring traditions happen as safely as possible, citing things like spirit week, awards ceremonies and graduation. She said she'll work within health guidelines but wants to creatively figure out ways for students to have these experiences, especially seniors.

Kelly said other goals include strengthening social-emotional learning and equity and inclusion.

Outside of her role as principal, Kelly also is in her fourth year of serving on the Waterford Board of Education. Originally from the Boston area, she obtained her undergraduate degree in English literature from Wheaton College, worked in higher education in Maine, and got her master's degree in school counseling from the University of Southern Maine before taking some time off to raise her kids.

She said at Monday night's meeting, "It's been a tough year, but I believe that it has made us stronger. I look forward to where we go from here, and I can't wait to lead the way."

e.moser@theday.com

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