Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion New Board of Education member John "Zen" Kelly spent his second day as District 9 representative at a meeting held by the school district that involved students, business owerns, board members and school administrators Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska. The focus of the gathering was to make connections between constituents and legislators to increase community involvement in advocacy for education.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion New Board of Education member John "Zen" Kelly spent his second day as District 9 representative at a meeting held by the school district that involved students, business owerns, board members and school administrators Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska. The focus of the gathering was to make connections between constituents and legislators to increase community involvement in advocacy for education.

School board finally finds new member

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Tuesday, February 2, 2016 9:37pm
  • News

The Board of Education has found a representative for residents in Homer, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Seldovia and the Russian Old Believer villages on East End Road.

John “Zen” Kelly will be filling the District 9 seat left unoccupied for nearly two months since 12-year member Sunni Hilts served at her last meeting in early December. The Texan-turned-Alaskan has a family history of long-time educators, including his father who worked as a superintendent and mother who was a teacher.

“I understand the time commitment,” Kelly said. “I am going to make every possible attempt to connect with people in the school district.”

The board unanimously approved Kelly’s appointment later in the evening, during the regularly scheduled meeting. Kelly was the sole candidate that fielded questions from board members Monday, including the origins of his nickname.

“Most people in Homer know me as ‘Zen,’” Kelly said during his introduction to the board.

He explained it stemmed from his high school days, and resurfaced when he took his first job in Alaska on a fishing boat. Kelly was one of two men called John in a group of four deckhands, and the captain determined one name had to be changed for clarity. Kelly later maintained the title by naming the beverage production company he founded the Zen Chai.

Twenty-four hours into the new role, Kelly explained he ran “mainly to fulfill a need.”

“The school district is faced with some significant financial difficulties for the next couple of years,” Kelly said. “I am hoping to bring my skill set to the table.”

Kelly is a business consultant in the private sector, specializing in the fields of accounting and information technology

Principal of McNeil Canyon Peter Swanson, who has worked closely with Kelly, said the new member’s business background would be an asset to the board.

“I think he will be a great addition to the school board,” Swanson said. “He listens well. Any feedback he gives is well thought out. He is a ‘big picture’ kind of guy.”

Swanson has been an administrator at the elementary school Kelly’s two daughters went through, the youngest of which recently graduated the sixth grade.

He said Kelly was a member of the site’s council, and the Homer Middle School site council.

After Kelly’s many years of being involved in the school community, and experience working in smaller schools in particular, Swanson said he is confident the new board member has a grasp of the issues relevant to his constituents and the programs and services that affect students in the area.

Kelly said he is most immediately concerned about the risks to small schools trickling down from the state level, and that state officials are considering closing sites with enrollment of 25 students or less.

He also cited helping to advocate for state funding, addressing the rising costs of health care that have become a burden on the school district and raising awareness within the community as areas he will be focusing on in the long-term.

In the coming weeks, Kelly said he will spend time with his constituents, contact the individual schools in his coverage area and make connections with site staff and administrators.

After his first meeting Monday, Kelly disclosed that his wife works for the school district at a school in Homer, as a potential conflict of interest.

Board President Joe Arness said he would not consider Kelly’s situation as a concern.

“Welcome sir,” Arness said. “We hope you never regret this moment. At least not for more than an hour.”

Kelly will have to rerun again in October’s regular municipal election to keep the seat, Arness said. Kelly said he has not decided how long he will remain on the board. He did report his first 24 hours as District 9 representative went well.

“I don’t feel like I have had a shocking revelation but there is a lot of work to be done,” Kelly said.

His first activities included a public meeting held by the school district, which was make connections between constituents and legislators to increase community involvement in advocacy for education.

Kelly said the event reiterated to him “what a great job the school district is doing in educating our children,” and he was “realizing everyone is a stakeholder in children receiving a quality education.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion New Board of Education member John "Zen" Kelly spent his second day as District 9 representative at a meeting held by the school district that involved students, business owerns, board members and school administrators Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska. The focus of the gathering was to make connections between constituents and legislators to increase community involvement in advocacy for education.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion New Board of Education member John “Zen” Kelly spent his second day as District 9 representative at a meeting held by the school district that involved students, business owerns, board members and school administrators Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska. The focus of the gathering was to make connections between constituents and legislators to increase community involvement in advocacy for education.

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche, left, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, right, meet with reporters in Micciche’s office in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska, after the Legislature ended its regular session. Micciche, a Republican, and Begich, a Democrat, discussed their working relationship, as well as well as parts of the session they were either pleased with or disappointed with. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
After House balks at bigger figure, budget OK’d with $3,200 payout per Alaskan

Budget finishes as second-largest in state history by one measure, but Dunleavy could make cuts

Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative High School, gives Oliver Larrow the Mr. Fix It award Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Kenai Alternative High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Alternative graduates 22, says goodbye to principal

The ceremony included special awards customized for students

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We never fell down’

Soldotna High School honors more than 100 graduates

Brandi Harbaugh gives a presentation during a joint work session on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Mill rate decrease, max school funding included in proposed borough budget

The final document is subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly

Most Read