Brent Kelly considers himself a lucky man.
Save for a five-year break in the middle, the departing principal got to start and end his teaching career at Gordon Head middle school.
“It’s pretty special,” said Kelly, who is retiring after 37 years with the district, 32 of which were in Gordon Head. “Thirty-two years in one place is not very common.”
Kelly got his start with the Greater Victoria school district at the age of 20, doing his practicum in – you guessed it – Gordon Head. At the time, the Kenmore Road school served the neighbourhood’s elementary students, covering Kindergarten to Grade 7.
“I was fortunate enough to stumble into a job here – they were hiring an extra teacher at the time and Tarj Mann, a longtime colleague and mentor, said I should go apply,” said Kelly.
“Within a couple of days, I was fired into a Grade 5 class, stayed teaching here for many years, and decided after some encouragement to go into administration.”
Kelly taught at Gordon Head for 18 years, becoming vice-principal before being moved to Hampton elementary. Little did he know, he’d be back in Gordon Head just five years later.
“I applied to become a principal, not knowing where I would end up,” said Kelly, “and I was asked to come back to Gordon Head.”
Since 2002, Kelly has served as Gordon Head’s principal, overseeing the school as it shifted from elementary to middle in 2006. His decision to retire after 37 years was tough, and he said it came as a shock to some of his co-workers.
“I didn’t decide until after spring break that this would be the year,” he said. “I hadn’t really talked about it, so I think a lot of people were surprised. I’ve been here for so long, maybe they thought I’d always be here.”
“On the other hand, many were probably going, ‘When are you retiring?’” he added with a laugh.
Kevin Luchies, principal of Lambrick Park secondary, described his longtime colleague as “a gentleman and a gentle man” who went above and beyond for his students.
“He’s one of the kindest and humblest guys who quietly, and almost unassumingly, goes about creating miracles of generosity every day,” said Luchies, who will be taking over as principal of Gordon Head middle school in the fall.
“It’s kind of intimidating for me. Even as a 17-year veteran in a number of schools, I’m going into one of those circumstances that people usually don’t say yes to. You follow somebody who’s legendary and you get to be the next person. I’m going to do my best to honour Brent’s legacy.”
In recognition of his hard work over more than three decades, Kelly received a School Partnership award from the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
“It was a huge surprise,” said Kelly. “I went thinking we were going to acknowledge Lisa Woo, our PAC president and greatly deserving of an award she was receiving, not knowing that I was also getting one.
“I’ve tried hard to make parents partners in the educational system. I try to be very welcoming and inclusive with parents, and for them to acknowledge that felt great.”
Of all the things he’ll miss, Kelly said the relationships with the staff, students and parents will be among his most cherished memories at Gordon Head middle school.
“I’ve just been very fortunate in my career,” he said.
“I was lucky enough to work for so long in a great community that supported me incredibly well and connected with so many great people along the way. I got to do something I love in a very supportive community for so long, and I thank the community for that.”