Southgate-born administrator retires in historic school year

Tom Kell

Shannon Rossi

Tom Kell is retiring after more than 35 years as an educator. He has spent the past eight years as principal of Roosevelt High School.

“I grew up in Southgate and was the fifth child in a family of eight kids,” he said. “My parents raised us to be hard working.”

Kell’s father was an electrician for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 58. His older brother Jack was the Director of Operations for Wayne County Jails before retiring.

“My mom was a saint raising eight kids,” Kell said. “She influenced my nurturing side, that I used to try to help all of my students in any way I can.”

Kell attended Southgate High School.

“I loved sports,” said Kell. “I played football and baseball, and was on the wrestling team.”

He received a scholarship to play football for five years at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. Kell’s interest in teaching came partly from watching his older brother, Mike.

Mike Kell, now of Brownstown Township, graduated from Southgate High School in 1970. He worked for the Southgate School District in various positions from 1976 through 2009. He also was the head football coach at Southgate High School for several years.

“Mike is seven years older. He had a major influence on me as a person and an educator. He was an excellent role model.”

Tom Kell earned a vocational education degree from Northern Michigan University.

After spending his college years in Marquette, Kell returned home to Downriver and became a full-time substitute teacher in Southgate.

“I taught woods and drafting at Aquinas High School in Southgate from 1984-1985. A year later, I left to teach in Wyandotte.”

He also earned a Master of Education degree from Eastern Michigan University and an Education Specialist degree from Wayne State University.

After four years of teaching in the Wyandotte school system, Kell became a building administrator.

“I was assistant principal at Wilson Middle School for four years and then principal there for 19 years. For the past eight years, I’ve been principal at Roosevelt High School,” he said. “I also coached football for five years, wrestling for three years and baseball for five years in Southgate.”

Kell’s four children were born and raised in Wyandotte, excelling in school and sports.

After discussing things with his wife Linda, Kell, who now lives in Trenton, decided that he would retire after the 2019-2020 school year.

Although it was a hard decision, Kell was excited to spend that special last year with the students and staff at Roosevelt High School.

When deciding that this school year would be his last as principal, Kell had no idea what would happen in March of this year.

“It was surreal when we first heard of COVID-19,” he said. “We gathered as a staff and talked about the situation and what might be coming our way. At first, there was some sadness at closing the schools, but also hope that we could return to school sometime this year.”

In March, when closures due to the pandemic first began, no one knew that it would become as serious as it has.

“Our administration team initially just asked that everyone stay safe and positive, so that we could get through this difficult situation,” he said. “We didn’t expect that we wouldn’t be returning to school.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that all Michigan schools would remain closed through the rest of the school year on April 2. As cases of COVID-19 were sharply rising each day, it was determined to be unsafe for students, teachers and staff to return to school.

“The pandemic has greatly altered the way administrators do our jobs,” said Kell. “We became problem solvers and caretakers for many of our students and staff.”

Kell went from monitoring multiple lunch hours for more than 1,400 students at school to packing hundreds of lunches each week to distribute to students.

A lot of Michigan schools have done the same thing. With the unfortunate knowledge that without going to school, students may not get to eat lunch, schools have distributed lunches to their students.

“During this time, knowing everything around our students has changed, it’s important to keep the feeling as positive as possible,” he said.

Around the country and the world, COVID-19 has changed just about everything. Kell’s hope of spending his final year as principal working with students and staff in person did not work out.

“As for working with staff, I love seeing them face-to-face and interacting with them,” said Kell. “We meet by Zoom now, but it’s not really the same.”

Until what would have been the end of the school year, Kell goes into school every day to answer phone calls and emails and do what he can to meet the needs of students and staff.

“I really miss the personal interactions with everyone,” he said. “But I will be a [Wyandotte] Bear for life.”

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