FLINT, Michigan—She can still hear the shuffling of her students from right outside of the door as students fill the hallway before and after classes. And although principal is her title, Kelly Fields is so much more than that to her students and the community of Flint.
Fields is a Flint native and a Flint educator. She is a guide and a mentor. She shows her students and teachers every day what a Flint kid can do.
Growing up in Flint wasn’t exactly easy for Fields. She watched her parents deal with drug addictions growing up and always looked to the teachers surrounding her, keeping her out of trouble, teaching her life lessons, and inspiring her to make a different life for herself.
“It was really teachers who invested into me, purchased my prom tickets, purchased my senior pictures. They just really poured into me and made me feel worthwhile.” Fields said.
Fields graduated from Northern High School and went on to Mott Community College. She earned her associate’s degree there and began a 10-year career in the medical field.
“The whole entire time that I worked in the medical field, I just was never satisfied. I was never fulfilled. It was easy to do. You never felt productive.”
Fields felt a passion to help others—so she went back to school to study social work, but after job shadowing several professionals quickly realized her true passion.
“I had enough credits at the time where I knew that I really needed to make a decision. And I thought to myself about how I really enjoy being around young people,” Fields said. “I mentored a lot of people through sports my sons were involved with … and realized I was really good with them, so I decided to give the whole education thing a try.”
Fields went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Ferris State University and began her career as an English teacher with Flint Community Schools in 2005. Fields decided to go to the next level. She returned to school herself. She began her classes in 2008 at the University of Michigan-Flint. She kept her eyes on the prize while continuing her work in the classroom (in multiple Flint schools over the years), inspiring thousands of Flint kids, just like her.
Seven years later, in 2015, Fields graduated with her master’s degree in secondary education and teaching. In August, Fields was promoted to principal at Northwestern High School.
“I enjoy this position of being able to support teachers and support students in being their most divine selves and being the most exemplar people that they could possibly be,” Fields said. “I enjoy what you can do to support people into being the best versions of themselves.”
Fields has been and continues to be the guiding force in a year filled with change and uncertainty. Her reign as principal coincided with combination of Northwestern and Southwestern high school athletics—creating the new unified team called the Jaguars. Last week, the Flint Community Schools Board of Education asked the superintendent to develop a plan that would close Northwestern at the end of this academic year.
If such a plan is created and approved, Fields first year as principal of Northwestern would likely be her last. Fields has received countless job offers elsewhere, but Fields is adamant about staying in the city of Flint.
“I am proud of the work that I do, I’m proud of being from this city. I wear this city on my back,” Fields said. “I have a commitment to this city. I have a responsibility to give back to this community in the same way that it’s given to me because I can’t tell you how many beautiful things have happened to me as a result of being a teacher.”
Some things change. Some things stay the same.
“I love seeing kids being empowered with the opportunity to be critical thinkers and to think about their world and how they can contribute to it and I know that the best avenue to get them there is through learning,” Fields said. “And that part of it is fire.”