Former Pleasantdale Elementary School Renamed for Scott and Mark Kelly

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Before an audience of family, friends, elected officials, school children and former teachers, Pleasantdale Elementary School was officially renamed Kelly Elementary School in ceremonies on May 19.

Captains Mark and Scott Kelly were lauded for their achievements before unveiling a bronze plaque, which will be attached to the school building, and a new school sign on the front lawn. The design, with a rocket ship with two very similar looking astronauts in it, was designed by Kelly Elementary School Art Teacher Nicole Siebert.

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Speaking together to the assembled crowd, first Mark Kelly introduced himself as “the more handsome and smarter one,” but adding very seriously, “We are proud to be from West Orange.”   Scott Kelly joined in the lighthearted tone of their conversational speech, saying  “It is great to be here…..it’s great to be anywhere with gravity,” after his recently completed 340 days aboard the International Space Station. He added, “We come in peace.”

Their comments came after more than an hour of kudos and compliments by some of the assembled dignitaries. Assemblyman John McKeon emceed the morning’s proceedings, pointing out many of those dignitaries that were in the audience, including former Governor Richard Codey , former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly’s wife, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and numerous other state and local officials. Also in attendance was the full membership of the West Orange Town Council.

Talking about the brothers’ close relationship, McKeon recalled an early meeting with Mark after Scott had launched into a mission, and Mark came to West Orange to spend time with high school students. “We put him through going to the St. Joe’s Christmas Play, and then to dinner at our home,” he said. “ We’ve had a lot of people over to our house for dinner, but none brought freeze dried food that they had autographed.”

Getting more serious, McKeon recalled the next day at the school where a video link with Scott, from space, was started, “and it was the first time Mark had seen him, I saw him kind of freeze and focus. What was so apparent to me is the bond they have.”

Mayor Rob Parisi spoke of the importance of the West Orange community and school system for a child’s growth. “As a community and as parents, we are reminded of the truly unlimited possibilities that exists within the hallways and the classrooms of our schools for our children,” he said.

He concluded by saying, “Mark and Scott, on behalf of this community, after all your worldly travels and out-of-this-world travels, it is my pleasure to officially welcome you home, and for never forgetting where you came from.”

Board of Education President Laura Lab noted the serious consideration given to renaming Pleasantdale Elementary School. “It is not every day that Boards of Education decide unanimously to change the name of a school building,” but she said in this case, “the decision was unique in the fact that the legacy of the Kelly brothers and their very real commitment to their former elementary school  made the decision that much easier.” Lab called the two “remarkable role models,” true heroes and pioneers.

She also noted the commitment the brothers had toward their alma mater, with Mark visiting the school, and Scott keeping in touch with Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara and doing a video chat with the students in January.

Superintendent Jeff Rutzky thanked Principal Pollara, the staff of Pleasantdale Elementary and all the people who helped make the day happen before addressing the Kelly brothers. “Changing the name of the school to Kelly Elementary personifies how proud we are of Mark and Scott as a school district and a community,” and adding, "their achievements should remind everyone of the importance of passion, hard work and dedication.”

Principal Pollara extended her first “Kelly Welcome” to the crowd, and then focused her remarks to the schoolchildren present. She spoke of the Three “Cs” of the day…..”Courage”, not only that of the astronauts but also of their families who supported their missions to space. “Courage doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means being a little afraid and doing the right thing anyway,” she said.

Collaboration was next, where she talked about how people working together meant “the success of a mission or your life might depend on it.” Her final “C” was “Celebrating successes, even small ones,” adding, “We need to appreciate everything and everyone.” McKeon noted that Dr. Pollara was now officially the last principal of Pleasantdale and the first principal of Kelly Elementary.

Dr. Susan Cole, President of Montclair State University, noting the success of the brothers said her experience as an educator “has me come to one simple educational principal: there is no more powerful factor in education than expectation.” She said students will rise to expectations made of them. “if we expect little of them, they will achieve little, if we believe in them and expect a great deal of them, they will achieve a great deal,” she said.

One of the people who might have seen that early promise in the Kelly brothers was Jerry Tarnoff, former West Orange Schools Superintendent and a former principal to Scott and Mark. When asked if he knew the Kelly brothers would be successful one day, said he isn’t surprised by their achievements. “I knew they wanted to be astronauts, and I’m not surprised they succeeded…..they always had the drive, the personality, and very few people have that honor (to become astronauts).” He said his former students have kept in touch with him, inviting he and his wife “to one of the launches, and what a thrill that was.”

The Kellys acknowledged they weren’t always the best at what they do. Mark recalled how he ‘wasn’t a very good pilot” and after his first landing on an aircraft carrier in the ocean, how an instructor pilot told him, “you’re not very good at this…..are you sure this career is for you?” He said that was a lesson. “How good you are at the beginning of anything you try isn’t a good indicator of what you can become.”

Scott added he was excited for the kids and what they will see in their lifetime, “because some day NASA, the United States, is going to send people to Mars…and I bet you that person is already living, and maybe they are here in New Jersey, in West Orange, right here in the grass.”

Board of Education Vice President Mark Robertson was especially happy about the event’s impact on the schoolchildren. “You hear their excitement, you hear the noise about everything that’s going on,” he said. “With Scott and Mark coming back here, you can see there are things you can dream you can do, you can take your life to whole new heights into space or the universe……it’s about aspirations and potential.”

BOE Board Member Sandra Mordecai, whose sons attended Pleasantdale Elementary, said the renaming was “a really proud moment” for the township, adding, “This is really wonderful to see two young men who’ve been really, really successful and who have made their mark in history for the country, for West Orange and for the now Kelly Elementary.”

To see the full ceremony as streamed live on Facebook, go to: https://www.facebook.com/woschools/videos/1337034899646384/