For Justin Kelm, each school day offers a chance to learn.
The new Flandreau Elementary School principal is taking in the lessons from a school-wide perspective rather than his own single classroom. For the past five years, he has taught fifth grade and social studies to fifth and sixth graders combined in Flandreau.
“I’m always trying to improve. For me, career wise, this was my next challenge,” he said of the principal position. “It is a great opportunity to expand my knowledge so much at once.”
Kelm taught for three years in Wolsey before taking off six years from education to work full time with the South Dakota Air National Guard. He returned to education six years ago and is an officer in the Air Guard.
As principal, he still is making connections with students and staff, he said.
“I’m trying to get into the classrooms as much as possible,” he said. He also takes hallway duty, lunch duty and sends students out the door at the end of the day.
“A lot of high fives,” he said of the student interaction as they go to get on school buses.
Even some of the challenges are going well so far, Kelm said.
Several students come to school with Spanish as their first language, and other Spanish-speaking students have stepped up to help them navigate the day.
In addition, a new school-wide behavior policy is going well. Expectations don’t change from one classroom to another so students seem calmer in the hallways, adhering to one set of rules, he said.
“Everyone’s on the same page,” he said of the plan that focuses on positive behaviors.
For Kelm, 38, there’s a balance between being visible in the school and making sure rules are adhered to by the 270 children in the classrooms.
“I want the kids to feel comfortable with me. But I also want them to know if they come in here for a discipline reason, there’s going to be some consequences,” he said.
In the meantime, Kelm will keep learning.
“There is a lot of learning on the go,” he said. “There always seems to be something that is new.”
Education: B.S. in Elementary Education from Northern State University and an M.A. in Educational Administration from University of South Dakota
Family: Wife and three kids
What interested you in becoming a principal? I became interested in part by a natural progression of my career. I wanted to continue to grow as an educator and with my past experiences training young adults, it led me to want to advance my career and lead teachers.
How will you work to stay involved with students in your new role? I will be involved by being visible in the classrooms, at lunch, before and after school I greet/say goodbye to them. I want the students to see me as much as possible to build a good relationship with each of them.
What was your main influence going into education as a career? I was influenced by two educators I had growing up. One of them had a deep passion for teaching and made the learning experience for me enjoyable. Another was a coach that gave me the opportunity to coach a young basketball team at a youth tournament. That experience really got me excited about coaching. Together they both led me towards the educational career field.
What did you learn as a teacher that might serve you well as a principal? I learned that no days are the same. As a teacher I learned to be flexible and to adapt to the students or the situation. In the little time I have had as a principal, I have definitely used this skill on many occasions.
How is education changing when it comes to your new position? Education is always changing, and you need to stay current with these changes. As a leader of a teachings staff I will be helping them stay current with these changes.
What are some of your goals in your new position? Some of my goals I have for the elementary is to one: fully implement our new Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system throughout the classrooms, have my staff infuse data-driven instruction in all areas, and to increase our academic scores.