If you speak with incoming San Mateo Union High School District Superintendent Kevin Skelly, his lack of interest in self-promotion might give you the impression that he’s not a political guy.
But don’t let Skelly’s easy-going manner fool you, said SMUHSD board of trustees President Marc Friedman, who noted that Skelly served for seven years as superintendent of the arguably very political Palo Alto Unified School District, which Friedman said, “might be a record.”
The board of trustees announced last month that Skelly was their pick for the superintendent role, and they are expected to finalize the appointment Tuesday, with Skelly assuming leadership of the district July 1.
Born in England to Irish parents, Skelly was brought to the United States at the age of 2, and said his parents always emphasized the importance of education.
Skelly’s first teaching job was with an educational program for talented students from poor neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. He also served disadvantaged kids by volunteering for a year in Quito, Ecuador, at the Working Boys’ Center, a Catholic organization providing education, health care and social services to shoeshine boys and their families.
The longtime educator’s résumé includes teaching at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, and when he was just 29 years old he became assistant principal at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley.
Skelly also found time to return to graduate school, earning a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from UC Berkeley.
Skelly was the principal of Saratoga High School in Saratoga for 11 years before becoming assistant superintendent with the Poway Unified School District, which serves roughly 35,000 students in Poway and San Diego.
In 2007, Skelly started a seven-year term as superintendent at Palo Alto Unified. In 2014, when the last of his children graduated from high school, Skelly took some time off to travel. During that period, he walked 500 miles on Spain’s famous Camino Trail, which he says took five weeks.
Currently serving as interim superintendent at the Mountain View Whisman School District, Skelly’s selection to head up SMUHSD was the result of an extensive outreach process that involved numerous candidates identified by an outside recruiting firm hired by the district.
It’s too early to offer extensive public comment on what challenges the district will face in the coming years, Skelly said, noting that his first priority will be to meet with district personnel and “be a good listener.”
“It’s going to be a question of getting in and learning as much as I can, learning what contributions I can make to the conversation,” Skelly said. “I want to be in the community. I want to learn as much as I can about the people the district serves.”
To that end, Skelly, who currently resides in Mountain View, said he’s interested in relocating to San Mateo, and hopes he can live close enough to the district’s main office that he will be able to bike to work.
While he praised Skelly’s political acumen, Friedman was most excited about Skelly’s commitment to good student outcomes.
“He really concentrates on academic issues, on making sure all students graduate college-ready,” Friedman said.