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New principals have family ties

ANDERSON — For the two newest occupants of principal’s offices in Anderson Community Schools, passion for education runs in the family.

Chris Chelli, who will take over as the lead administrator at Erskine Elementary School, and Shane Bryant, who will pilot Valley Grove Elementary School, both come from families of educators. Chelli, who counts teaching at Erskine among the positions he’s held in the district over 20 years, is married to Julie, an English teacher at Anderson Elementary School.

“Her sister is an educator, her mom was an educator, her grandmother was an educator — so we’re a family of educators,” Chelli said.

In addition to his teaching experience, Chelli has held several other administrative and leadership posts around the district. After his teaching stint at Erskine, he became the dean at Edgewood Elementary School.

“His overall experience, training and dedication, plus his specific experience and familiarity with the Erskine staff, made him the right man for the right job at the right time,” ACS Superintendent Dr. Joe Cronk said.

Bryant comes to Valley Grove after spending eight years as an elementary principal in the Greenfield Central Community Schools district. With a father who spent 35 years as a high school principal and a mother who taught first grade for 30 years, Bryant said education was a natural career path for him to follow.

“It’s exciting for me, just seeing the joy that my parents experienced through many different areas, but especially just helping students grow in many aspects of their education,” he explained.

For Chelli, the opportunity to lead his own building, in many ways, brings his ACS career full circle.

“It’s exciting because I’m coming home,” Chelli said. “This was the last building I taught in before I moved over to be a dean and then I moved into being an assistant principal.

“It’s very exciting to be coming back to Erskine and working with a group of individuals that are wonderful. … It’s just a great opportunity to work with children in a different way and just affect their lives in a good way.”

The first day of classes at ACS is Wednesday, and both men admitted that the last few weeks have been hectic. They each officially started their new positions on July 18, leaving them less than three weeks to acquaint themselves with their staff and faculty and become familiar with a variety of building protocols, scheduling matters and details on a variety of curricula.

Each school is expected to have about 45 staff members and 400 students for the upcoming academic year.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACS officials are anticipating their first truly normal academic environment in three years.

While Bryant, Chelli and other administrators and teachers throughout the district are relishing a return to in-person instruction, they acknowledge that the learning loss students have experienced — dubbed by many in the profession as the COVID slide — is real and will require effort from everyone to mitigate.

“We obviously know that, not just in Anderson but across the state, our students have taken several steps back the last couple years,” Bryant said. “The achievement scores have shown that. There’s a sense of urgency that we all need as educators to try to fill in those gaps.”

Cronk noted that ACS — and many other districts — will open the academic year with teacher shortages, which will undoubtedly intensify scrutiny on administrators, including Chelli and Bryant, as they oversee efforts to help students with academic recovery.

“Everyone nationwide is still recovering from COVID-19, and the damage from that is not insignificant,” Cronk said. “It will take work to turn the learning loss around. Both men, as are all our great building staff, are up to the challenge.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin on August 1, 2022.