Reynoldsburg eSTEM Academy leader Leslie Kelly is leaving the school district to become principal of Walnut Springs Middle School in Westerville, effective Aug 1.

Reynoldsburg eSTEM Academy leader Leslie Kelly is leaving the school district to become principal of Walnut Springs Middle School in Westerville, effective Aug 1.

The Westerville Board of Education approved hiring Kelly on July 11. She will be paid a base salary of $91,000, about $3,700 more than she is earning in Reynoldsburg.

Kelly has been with Reynoldsburg schools for the past 11 years and was one of the coordinators responsible for launching the district's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative. She also is a member of Reynoldsburg City Council; she is uncontested in her bid for a second term in the Nov. 8 election.

Although Westerville is exploring STEM opportunities for the future, Kelly said being principal at Walnut Springs Middle School, which has a student enrollment of 850, is a challenge she is looking forward to.

"I'm really pleased to be able to go from a district that is my home to another district where every single person I have come in contact with has just been so incredibly nice and welcoming," Kelly said. "I am very blessed to go from a great situation to another great situation."

Kelly said the opportunity in Westerville will provide her with new challenges.

"Westerville is a great school district, and a district that is diverse and has a community that is involved, and that is something that I look for," she said.

Reynoldsburg Superintendent Steve Dackin agreed and said Kelly's move to the larger Westerville district will offer her more opportunity for advancement.

He said he has always encouraged his administrators to take care of their personal and professional needs and although it is a loss for Reynoldsburg schools, he is happy for Kelly.

"We simply don't have a number of the central office positions that Westerville will have and I know Leslie was thinking about her long-term opportunities, not just the principalship but what happens after she's ready to move on," Dackin said. "She wanted to be in a position to do that and Westerville is an outstanding school district.

"I have a lot of regard for Leslie and the work she has done for this district over the years. I wish her and family well; she's a good person and we'll miss her as an employee," he said.

Kelly, 38, is a native of Medina, Ohio. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in education-biology from Ohio Northern University in 1995 and a master of arts degree in education policy and leadership from The Ohio State University in 1998.

She also is an adjunct professor at Ashland University and is a member of the STEM-based pre-college summer bridge program design committee with Ohio Dominican University.

Before coming to Reynoldsburg schools 11 years ago, Kelly was employed in the Columbus school district, where she was an eighth-grade science teacher at Johnson Park Middle School and assistant principal at Arts Impact Middle School.

"I really truly enjoy making a difference in the lives of kids," she said. "In education, it's a special privilege when you make an impact on a kid that's going to be a lasting impact. Knowledge is something someone can't steal from you."

Kelly said her decision to leave Reynoldsburg was a difficult one.

"We have achieved some incredible things at eSTEM this year. I could not have asked for a better year — the staff, the students. I've been here a long time at Reynoldsburg and was a difficult decision," Kelly said.

"When you look at when is the right time to leave, there's never the perfect time É I believe the best time to leave is when you're part of creating a program that is strong and can stand on its own.

"When you leave when a program is falling apart, that's when you're running from something, and I don't run. We've created a program that is strong," she said.

She and her family —husband, Ryan and their two children, Ryan Jr. and Caroline, will continue to live in Reynoldsburg, giving her "the best of both worlds," she said.