| 2014 Q3 | story by LIZ WESLANDER    | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |

Director of Career and Technical Education for USD 497, Patrick Kelly

Patrick Kelly is a flexible guy. During the course of his career in education, he has gone from high school band director to Director of Career and Technical Education for USD 497. Through it all, a sense of humor and an enthusiasm for education have remained constant.

“I care a lot about creating great experiences for kids – experiences that prepare them for whatever their life is going to become,” Kelly said.

Originally from Long Beach, California, Kelly studied Fine Arts and Music Education at the University of Kansas. His first teaching job was at Highland Park High School in Topeka, where he spent six years as the band instructor. He then moved back to Lawrence, where he taught band at Hillcrest Elementary School, West Junior High School and Free State High School for seven years. Having earned a Master’s Degree in Education Administration at KU along the way, Patrick started to make the transition from teacher to administrator in 2006 when he took on USD 497’s District Curriculum Specialist for Fine Arts position while also continuing to teach band.

Being in both the classroom and administration was tough, Kelly said, so when the district offered him a full-time administrative position that meant working as District Curriculum Specialist for both Fine Arts and Career and Technical Education, he went for it.

“They said they had a spot for me doing administration full-time, but said I’d have to do technical education,” Kelly said. “I told them, I don’t even know what that is, but okay.”

To prepare for his new position, Kelly said, he spent the summer barricaded in his office reading materials about career and technical education. Materials that he said were largely gathered for him by an “amazing” administrative assistant, Patty Buccholz.

Kelly is frank about the differences between teaching and administration. He admits to missing the arts and the classroom at times, but said he is also inspired by the potential his administrative position provides for making large-scale impacts.

“Every teacher who has gone into administration will tell you the same thing on this one – nothing is more exciting than working with a classroom of kids,” Kelly said. “Your scope is deep with those kids, but it’s small in total reach.”

Kelly jokes that the nice thing about working in the arts is that people literally applaud when you complete your work, which provides immediate and audible validation. As a band teacher, Kelly’s students had always chosen to be in his class, and were usually excited about the material. Kelly said administration is more about setting up other people for success, which means finding satisfaction in seeing others accomplish their goals.

“As an administrator you are really in more of a supportive role,” Kelly said. “That’s fun, but it’s different. I really delight in the success of others.”

In July 2013, Kelly’s potential to set up others for success reached a new level when he acquired his current position. The job came on the heels of the $92.5 million school bond issue approved by voters in April of 2013. The bond issue included $5 million for the construction of a 30,000-square-foot College and Career Center at 29th and Haskell Ave. The new building will be a place for high school juniors and seniors to practice 21st century skills that will prepare them for secondary education and high-demand careers. As director, Kelly is charged with getting the center off the ground and keeping it running smoothly once it is open.

Kelly’s enthusiasm about the College and Career Center comes through clearly when he describes both the building and the type of teaching and learning that will occur there. He emphasizes that the center will focus on creating authentic, work-based experiences for students in an environment that does not feel like high school.


Students working in the Free State High School sound lab. The College and Career Center will create authentic, work-based experiences for students.

“Spaces for learning in experience-based education look very different than a traditional classroom. You need to have studio spaces for students can create products that show their ideas. You also need to have smaller spaces where students can meet to discuss ideas,” Kelly said. “The whole idea of rows of classrooms that you see in a typical high school is gone.”

The College and Career Center’s curriculum will include instruction in a variety of vocational areas including health care and biotechnology, computer integrated manufacturing, information technology, and law in government. The school district will partner with area community colleges to offer entry-level courses in these areas and will provide opportunities for students to obtain professional certificates, such as Certified Nurses Aide. Students at the center will also be working with businesses to understand and practice relevant skills.

“Businesses are looking for people with portfolios of real work with real employers,” Kelly said. “A key part of keeping curriculum relevant at the College and Career Center will be to engage with employers to see what skills they are looking for and what they have the capacity to support. The skills needed are changing every day. We need to be listening to business and industry.”

In addition to the flexible learning environment and innovative curriculum, Kelly said that the paradigm for teaching at the College and Career Center will look different than what a lot of teachers are used to.

“The idea that our teachers will impart knowledge to our students is not the main mindset here,” Kelly said. “The idea is to facilitate experiences for student to learn and for them to show what they’ve learned. Teachers will be doing project management, which is very different than ‘Open your books to chapter seven.’”

Currently, a larger number of high school seniors in Lawrence choose to graduate early. According to Kelly, the fact that high school students are not taking advantage of this last year of free schooling speaks directly to the need for the type of engaged learning experiences the College and Career Center will provide.

“This is a time to be learning and trying and experiencing and instead kids are saying, ‘I’m done,’” said Patrick. “We need to make learning so engaging that students can’t wait to get to school and work on their projects. I still believe we can do that with high school kids. I don’t think they are done.”


Free State High School Video Production Instructor, Scott Smith with Kelly. High school students are not taking advantage of their last year of free schooling, emphasizing the need for engaged learning experiences the College and Career Center will provide.

According to Kelly, on a community level, the College and Career Center will help fill an educational gap that has been present in Lawrence for a long time. Although Lawrence is a community that values high levels of education, Kelly said that anyone seeking technical skills not offered at the university has always had to travel to surrounding communities to get that education. To help remove these barriers, the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County is developing the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center on the property adjacent to the College and Career Center, which will provide additional technical training for adults in the Lawrence community.

Outside of his work at the school district, Kelly participates in a number of civic opportunities that help him maintain balance and stay inspired. He said he does “as much musical theater as people will tolerate” at Theater Lawrence and the Lawrence Arts Center and also serves on the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission.

“I love trying to get more people more exposure and access to the arts in every day life. Plus it helps me reconcile my no longer being involved in teaching fine arts anymore,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of energy behind the arts in Lawrence right now.”

Kelly also serves on the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission, an opportunity that gives him the chance to engage with the community on a different level. Because the planning commission often deals with issues that affect people’s neighborhoods, they often listen to community members who don’t regularly interact with local government. According to Kelly, the commission works hard to follow a trustworthy process that allows the community to feel like they have a voice in what the community looks like in the future. Kelly hopes this process gives people a good feeling about local government.

“You get to meet all kinds of people and understand the community in a way I never have before,” Kelly said. “I get to really practice the act of leadership – not just being an authority figure, but practicing civic engagement and leadership.”

Kelly credits Leadership Lawrence, a professional development program put on by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, and the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita for helping him to look critically at how he approaches leadership.

“It’s not just understanding your community. It’s having the skills to be impactful in our community. It’s one thing to know what the issue is, it’s another thing to act upon that knowledge,” Kelly said. “It’s about asking ‘How do I get involved?’ in a way that will be effective, but that also recognizes that, ‘Hey, maybe I’m part of the problem.’” ■

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