Nicholasville Elementary School welcomes new principal

Published 4:39 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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By Gillian Stawiszynski

Nicholasville Elementary School (NES) has just announced a new principal. As 3-year principal Heather Holland steps down for retirement after 28 years at NES, John Brandean Kenealy will take her place next school year.

Kenealy has had a 10-year-long career in Jessamine County. He served as a classroom teacher, behavior interventionist, and head football coach at East Jessamine Middle School before transitioning to East Jessamine High School in 2019 to serve as assistant principal. His professional experience includes training, coaching, and supporting teachers in implementing best instructional practices, hiring, developing, and supporting new teachers, curriculum development, and designing and implementing systems and structures to meet individual student learning and social-emotional needs. Kenealy earned a bachelor’s degree in middle school education from Murray State University and an educational specialist degree in instructional leadership from the University of the Cumberlands.

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“When we interviewed him, there was tons and tons of excitement. I’m not supposed to share anything from the closed session, but I’m going to paraphrase a little of what one of our parents said. There was a lot of digging into references and just trying to find something a little bit bad about him. We didn’t find that. He is somebody that kids are drawn to, kids that have that academic focus, as well as kids that are maybe on that struggle bus and need support. I’ve witnessed it firsthand, even this year. I’m sure every one of you has encountered someone in your life that when you spend time with them they make you just want to do something better. You see their work, and it just inspires you to want to replicate them. That’s been my experience with Brandean in the time I’ve gotten to connect with him over the years. I’m very excited that he’s going to be leading the work in a very special school,” Superintendent Matt Moore said.

Standing in the front of the school’s library with his wife and his two young daughters, Kenealy said he is excited and humbled by the opportunity. When he saw the opening for the position, he was excited, but as he learned more about the school and the student body, he felt “compelled” to throw his name into the applicant pool.

“I knew that if I was able to get here I could really connect and love and show kids that love and help push them to heights that they’ve never seen before and push them to that next level,” Kenealy said.

Throughout his education, Kenealy had wanted to teach elementary education, but growing up in a low-income household, he quickly realized that working in an elementary school wouldn’t pay for his schooling.

Finally, he’s where he has always wanted to be, though he has a passion for “kids and meeting kids where they’re at and showing them love, and that’s applicable for all kids, grades K-12,” Kenealy said.

Kenealy’s time starts as Holland’s 28-year career in education (spent solely at Nicholasville Elementary School) comes to an end.

Superintendent Moore called Holland a “heartbeat” of this community and this school.

“She has a strong focus and heart for Nicholasville Elementary. She’s a very skilled leader and one of those that when she said it was time to retire, my immediate knee jerk was disappointment because I don’t want to see her leave but I’m gonna celebrate with her anyway. I do truly appreciate her very much. She’s put her footprint on Nicholasville Elementary and it’s gonna go on forever,” Moore said.

Holland held countless roles at NES, including teaching third and fourth grade and working as an instructional coach, a technology resource teacher, a gifted and talented teacher and a curriculum resource administrator.

“I knew right away that Nicholasville Elementary School was a family. That is what we’re known for is being a family. And I made fast friends with the staff and fell in love with the kids. Now, I’ve been here long enough that I have students here whose parents were my students when I taught. So, I’ve never imagined being anywhere else if I was going to be at a school if I was going to be a principal,” Holland said, calling her departure bittersweet because although she knows the “Man Above” has other plans for her, it’s going to be difficult to leave.

The decision to hire Kenealy to replace Holland was made by the school’s site-based decision-making council, which is made up of the current principal, teachers, and parents.

One member of the council, 5th-grade teacher Macey Smith said: “The good thing is that our council was very open and honest with each other about what we were looking for, so that made it easier, but I don’t think it’s ever easy to bring anyone new in.”