Kelly Elementary School welcomes new principal

Joel Castillo

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Joel Castillo has been named the new principal of Kelly Elementary School in West Orange following the retirement of longtime Principal Joanne Pollara.

Castillo arrives in West Orange with 15 years of experience in the educational field and boundless enthusiasm for the task ahead. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Rochester, a Master of Arts in childhood education and instruction and an education specialist degree in school leadership from Seton Hall University. He holds N.J. Standard Principal Certification, N.J. Standard Elementary Education Certification and N.Y. Childhood Education Certification.

His teaching background is primarily in private schools, where he served as principal at St. Bartholomew Academy and the Academy of Our Lady of Peace.

While at Our Lady of Peace he spearheaded the school’s efforts to achieve the 2017 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence distinction. He wrote curriculum, developed STEM programming and data-driven professional development, and integrated technology into the student-learning experience. 

As vice principal at All Saints Academy, Castillo, who is multilingual with English, Spanish and French under his belt, also served as world languages supervisor and initiated language programs across all grade levels.

“One negative point can ripple at any level of an organization, but lots of positive points impact it to create an environment of support for not only students and families, but also create a platform for teachers,” Castillo said.

With a background that includes emergency management, budgeting and mentorship, Castillo is already at work to prepare for the opening of Kelly Elementary to students and provide consistency in the virtual learning process.

“We all want to see our kids in school, but only if it’s done effectively and safely, and one of my primary goals is to provide stability and consistency for students, families and staff,” he said.

Castillo’s approach is inclusive and responsive. 

“My office door is always open to students, to families and to staff, and the staff here at Kelly is wonderful. They have been so supportive to me as well,” he said. “I want to assimilate the climate and culture of the school so that I can connect and resonate with the community even more.”

When asked about some of the things he may have on his “wish list,” Castillo said he would like to see more academic support during the summer and more extracurricular programs at the elementary level. He cited programs like chess, robotics, cooking, basketball and even “Hogwarts soccer,” an activity he initiated at his previous schools, as some activities he would like to consider implementing in West Orange. Some of the activities could even be held in the evening.

“Being successful in education is multi-tiered. People have different plans and different ideas,” he said. “For some, it may be getting straight A’s or developing organizational skills. For another, it may be getting to school on time. Everyone has their own level of success, and appreciating that is the key to supporting them.

“Education is critical for people to be better citizens and know their strengths to help others,” he concluded.

Castillo lives in Hackettstown with his wife and three young children.