Kelly O’Leary, Ed.D.
Class of 1995
What is your name, where do you currently live, and when did you graduate St. Mary School?
My name is Kelly O’Leary, Ed.D., I live in North Haven and I graduated from St. Mary School in 1995.
What is your current profession?
I am currently in my eighth year as principal of St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven, CT. I began my NativtMiguel career as an AmeriCorps volunteer teacher from 2003 to 2005 at Mother Caroline Academy in Dorchester, MA. I came to teach full time at St. Martin de Porres Academy (SMPA) in 2006.
St. Martin de Porres Academy (SMPA) is a faith based NativityMiguel model Catholic middle school (grades 5-8). SMPA privately fundraises its 1.5 million dollar operating budget to provide a full scholarship to students from low-income families in the New Haven, CT area. SMPA’s unique holistic model provides students with a 10-hour school day and an 11-month school year. St. Martin’s makes a 12 year commitment to every student and follows all graduates through high school and college. Each day from 2:30 – 6pm, SMPA graduates are welcomed to come back to our school for a safe and quiet place to complete homework, connect with other graduates, or receive academic support and materials.
In June of 2016, I earned my Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Seton Hall University. The focus of my research was on socioeconomic demographic information to reliably predict standardized test scores. My doctoral research further highlighted the need for holistic trauma-informed education. SMPA is an example of a trauma informed school.
What was your educational path after graduating from St. Mary School?
Ed.D. Educational Leadership, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ - Jun 2016
Administrator Certificate & CT Administrator Certification (092), Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT - Jan 2012
MAT & CT Teacher Certification: Biology 7-12, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT - Aug 2007
Major: Biology & Minor: Psychology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA - May 2003
Diploma, Sacred Heart Academy, Hamden, CT - May 1999
Young Alumni Achievement Award, Sacred Heart University - Sep 2016
Kappa Delta Pi Honors Society, Seton Hall University - Mar 2015
Hearts of the Community Award, Sacred Heart Academy - Nov 2012
National Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award, Garden Club of America - Mar 2011
AmeriCorps Education Grant, Mother Caroline Academy - Jun ‘04 & Jun ‘05
CT 093 Superintendent of Schools – 2017
CT 092 Intermediate Administrator & Supervisor – 2012
CT 030 Biology – 2007
What volunteer or charity efforts are you currently involved with?
- Catholic Charity League, Member Sept 2010 – Present
- Closer to Free Ride: Smilow Cancer Hospital, Participant – Sept 2013,’14,’15,’16, 2017*
- Seton Hall University Executive Ed.D. Program, Mentor – July 2014 – May 2016
- NEASC Visiting Committee, Member & Committee Chair* – Sept 2012, Oct 2017*
How do you feel SMS prepared you academically?
SMS prepared me for the rigors of Sacred Heart Academy. It was in Ms. Nelon’s science class were I developed my love for science, which I carried with me throughout high school and college. Spending my career in middle schools, I have come to understand how formative these years are. During this time, students typically decide which subjects they can excel in and which subjects they are, “just not good at.” SMS grounded in me the idea that it was not intellect that made an individual a good or bad student; it is effort and the ability to utilize any and all resources at one’s disposal that made the difference between an average students and an excellent student.
Do you feel SMS provided you with a foundation for your future? If so, in what ways?
Attending St. Mary’s School gave me the perspective to know that not all students have access to a quality Catholic School Education simply due to their socio-economic status. My entire professional career has been dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through education and opportunity. I was blessed enough to attend St. Mary School because my parents valued education and scraped together enough money to send me to a Catholic School. I strongly believe in holistic education which honors and cultivates students academically, emotionally, and spiritually.
What are some of your favorite memories of SMS?
I have so many vivid memories of SMS. We used to have to do the large landscape letter books. Ms. Eisenhandler was my kindergarten teacher and we sang the Rainbow Connection with our 4th grade buddies at graduation. I remember the prayer service complete with balloons for our classmate Anna who passed away after battling cancer. We put on the play Annie in 1st grade – I was Ms. Hannigan. I remember watching the movie in Ms. Reily’s class and feeling scared that I had to be the crazy woman that didn’t wear a lot of clothes. Ms. Pendleton also taught us the words to “The Lord of Dance” in 1st grade, which I have never forgotten to this day. I remember that Sr. Jane came out to my recess line to tell me that my youngest sister Maggie was born. Sr. Jane carried a pink folder so I knew it was a girl before she even said anything. Ms. Dahl was one of my all-time favorite teachers – I remember how much I was loved and cared for in her classroom. Ms. Wandalear taught us all about colonial America and took us to Sturbridge Village. She read to the class James and the Giant Peach complete with all the voices. Ms. Murray (aka Ms. Kamokowski) in 5th grade was one of the best Math teachers I ever had. Ms. Becher taught the Billy Song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” – every year. Lastly, Ms. Nelson cultivated my love for science.
What advice can you give to our students?
My advice for students is to realize early on that is never only 1 path – there are many “right” paths. I share with my own middle school students the Malcolm Gladwell Theory of 10,000 hours. We all have talents, but no person becomes great at anything unless we put the time in – 10,000 hours. We only become great through a lot of practice. I challenge students and adults to make mistakes because if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough to improve. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to be your best self. Dare to be the change you wish to see in your community and the world. And finally, say thank you to your teachers. They continually plant seeds within you that take root and blossom. In nature the seed never gets to see the flower – sometimes as educators we get to glimpse the beauty of what our students have become.