Kelin Mark

Kelin Mark became principal of Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center this summer and is the district’s first Black male to hold the position. Mark hopes his historic status inspires his Black students to succeed and possibly enter the education field as adults.

“I know even when students are not in building I’m having an impact on my school, a kid’s life and my community,” Mark said. “That’s a fulfilling feeling in itself. … I encourage others, especially my African American males, to pursue education.” (Photo/Ben Lashar)

Kelin Mark is no stranger to Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center. Mark has been the school’s assistant principal for eight years. However, when students return from summer vacation they will find Mark in a new position: principal. In fact, he is the first African American male principal in the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Wayne Township.

“Understanding that historical piece, I want to be a great role model for those young men and those young ladies who never had a male principal or never had an African American male principal,” Mark said. “… It’s an honor. Somebody has to be first. I’ll take it.”

Mark’s performance earned him the position, which is a historic landmark for Wayne Township schools. He believes Mark’s history with Chapel Hill is why Mark is not only a good leader but also a role model for students, Jeff Butts, superintendent, said. 

“I feel a sense of pride for Mr. Mark and this district that we have broken this ground,” Butts said. “It certainly should have happened sooner than this, but I couldn’t be more proud of this district.”

As assistant principal, Mark was involved in many programs such as the school’s campaign to enroll as many students as possible into National Junior Honor Society. Mark also spearheaded Young Men of Purpose, a three-week program where eighth graders mentor seventh graders about character and how to transition from elementary to middle school. Keisha Zackery, whose oldest son is an eighth grader at Chapel Hill, said the program increased her son’s confidence about entering middle school while helping her feel less worried. 

“There’s so much anxiety when it’s your first child making a big change and going into middle school, and [Mark] was so instrumental in making sure that adjustment was easy not only for us but for our son,” Zackery said. 

Zackery also praised Mark for being available to both students and parents. Mark was frequently present at sporting events and interacted with students between classes. In addition, Mark built relationships with parents. He held monthly Parent Education Workshops to teach parents how to help their children with school and answer questions.

“If I had questions I knew I could send an email, and I would get a response or a ‘Hey I’m not sure, but I’ll get back to you,’” Zackery said. “That meant everything because [being available] shows people care.”

Butts said this history at Chapel Hill made Mark the strongest candidate to become the school’s next principal. Butts recommended Mark for the position, and all eight members of MSD Wayne Township school board unanimously agreed on the promotion. 

“We have many excellent leaders and aspiring administrators in the district, but when it came down to making the decision, Mr. Mark was the clear choice,” Butts said. 

After undergoing several interviews, Mark tried not to obsess over whether or not he got the job. Then when an assistant superintendent and the head of human resources called Mark’s office and told him to close the door he didn’t know what to think. 

“It was maybe a 10-minute conversation, but it seemed like it was an hour,” Mark said. “They told me, ‘We really were impressed with you and the work you’ve done, and we would like you to be the next principal of Chapel Hill.’ … I remember hanging up the phone. I kept the door closed because I did get a little emotional afterwards, and then a kid knocked on my door and it was back to reality.”

Zackery believes Mark demonstrates African American success that can counter negative ideas her children see in the media about what Black men are and how they act.

“Mr. Mark’s role in Chapel Hill and life in general breaks all those stigmas,” Zackery said. “Hopefully our boys will look at that and see, ‘I don’t have to believe everything the media says about me because I can see firsthand what a Black male does and what he can do and what he’s capable of accomplishing.’ … My son talks about Mr. Mark all the time at home, and I love that because you can’t always pick who your children admire.” 

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

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