BATAVIA – Kelly Karnick loves middle school students.
“They’re the best!” Karnick exclaimed during an interview. “They are starting to go through all these weird things in their growth and development, but they are funny and they are honest.”
Karnick is returning to Batavia’s Rotolo Middle School, where for more than a decade she served as a classroom teacher and later in administrative roles.
Now, Karnick is taking responsibility for the entire school – an enrollment of roughly 1,300 students and a staff of about 100 – as the new principal.
Karnick has come full circle with her return to Rotolo, yet she took what she describes as a slightly unconventional path.
After graduating from the University of South Florida as an English and education major, Karnick taught sixth-grade English at a middle school in the Sunshine State for four years.
Family considerations brought Karnick to the Fox Valley in 2000 and the following year she began teaching drama, debate and communications at Rotolo on a part-time basis. Karnick soon was teaching eighth-grade English and social studies full time and finally spent a couple of years as a dean and then a year as the school’s assistant principal for curriculum.
During that time, Karnick started working on master’s and then doctoral degrees in education leadership, and by the start of the 2013 school year had become director of curriculum for Batavia School District 101, assisting Chief Academic Officer Brad Newkirk.
When Rotolo Principal Bryan Zwemke accepted an offer to become the new principal of Minooka Community High School, Karnick did not hesitate.
“To work in the central office and then go back to a school building is probably not the typical path,” Karnick said, but she clearly is elated at the opportunity.
Superintendent Lisa Hichens said Karnick is a natural fit as Rotolo’s new principal.
“Kelly really does have a history with Rotolo and the district,” Hichens said. “She has a passion for middle school children.”
Karnick already knows a majority of the faculty members. Sixth-grade science teacher Gina DeSimone and sixth-grade math teacher Cassie Inderan were Karnick’s students at Rotolo many years ago.
“It does take a special person to teach middle school,” Karnick said. “You can’t take yourself too seriously. You have to own up (to the students) if you don’t know something.”
With standardized testing, public schools are more accountable than ever for achieving results, Karnick said.
“The job is to be an instructional leader and to support the teachers,” Karnick said of her new role.
Communication with parents also is important, Karnick said.
“We want parents to know that our team is there to help their children,” Karnick said.
Karnick’s husband is Director of Operations Mark Anderson, who oversees District 101’s buildings and grounds. Anderson grew up in Batavia and has coached football and baseball at the high school.
“He’s a Batavia guy,” Karnick said of her husband. The couple lives in the school district.
Karnick said she enjoys seeing students enter middle school as sixth-graders and witness the maturity that has taken place when they complete eighth grade.
“It is a dramatic change, physically, emotionally and academically,” Karnick said.
Middle school students have four “core curriculum” classes per day, focusing on English, math, science and social studies, plus three “exploratory” sessions, including physical education, art and music.
The Batavia School Board on July 23 approved Karnick’s appointment as principal with a base salary of $131,000 per year. The board also approved Karnick’s replacement in the curriculum director’s role with the appointment of Ming Shelby.
The first day of school is Aug. 14.