Jacquelyn Y. Kelley, 60, founder and CEO of Discovery Charter

Jacquelyn Y. Kelley
Jacquelyn Y. Kelley
Posted: June 07, 2014

Jacquelyn Y. Kelley, 60, of Philadelphia, founder and CEO of Discovery Charter School, died Sunday, June 1, of an infection at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Mrs. Kelley was a gifted educator and entrepreneur who devoted her life to the city's schoolchildren.

"She had a vision, and she made sure she saw it all the way through," said her daughter, Kimberly S. Kelley.

Mrs. Kelley rose through the ranks in the Philadelphia School District before becoming chief instructional officer for a start-up charter school. While working there - and at Mount Carmel Baptist Church's Discovery Camp - she had a eureka moment:

Why couldn't children be taught by linking their classroom lessons to real-life experience? Further, couldn't that approach be the basis of a new charter school, so that the discoveries begun in camp could continue the rest of the year?

In 2003, her musing found fruition with the opening of the Discovery Charter School in West Philadelphia. Last year, it moved to a new building at 4700 Parkside Ave. The charter serves 760 students in kindergarten through eighth grade with a staff of 100.

Because of her drive and expertise, Mrs. Kelley was among the educators chosen to serve on Pennsylvania Charters for Excellence, a group formed around the goal of high-quality schooling for the city's children.

In April 2014, Mrs. Kelley also was honored with the Octavius V. Catto Award for Education from the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

But her efforts to grow the Discovery school put her at odds in 2013 with the School Reform Commission, and School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. after she enrolled 73 more students than the limits set in a contract signed in 2008.

The district, beset by budget woes and seeking to cap charter enrollment, threatened to revoke Discovery's charter in 2013 if the school did not repay $406,391 in public funds that were charged to the School District for the cost of the 73 charter seats. In May, after a flurry of negotiations, the school agreed to repay $403,391 over 12 months, and the charter remained intact.

Born in Philadelphia and a 1971 graduate of Overbrook High School, Mrs. Kelley earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from West Chester University and a master's degree in educational administration from Cheyney University.

At the time of her death, she was working towards a doctorate in charter school leadership at Harvard University.

Her colleagues at Discovery Charter described Mrs. Kelley as a remarkable person who inspired students and staff to empower themselves through lifelong learning.

Mrs. Kelley also insisted on a safe school environment as a necessary precursor to learning.

In addition to her leadership role at the school, Mrs. Kelley was a deacon at Mount Carmel Baptist.

Beside her daughter, Mrs. Kelley is survived by her mother, Ophelia Young; son Marcus Smith-Kelley; another daughter, Tisha Williams; a brother; and five grandchildren.

She married Paul Kelley in 1982. They divorced. He survives.

A viewing starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 7, will be followed by an 11 a.m. funeral service at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made to the Jacquelyn Y. Kelley Expeditionary Foundation, 4700 Parkside Ave., Philadelphia 19131. The fund pays to send students on worldwide travel.



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