Coming Full Circle With Principal Mest

A Sad and Fond Farewell to Our Principal

Principal Mest with school mascot Marty the Mustang in the cafeteria.

A Sad and Fond Farewell to Our Principal

“Students are why I do this job every day, and it’s why I spend hours answering emails…or doing all the compliance work,” Principal Mest explained. “I am proud of the way this community has grown. I am proud of the way this community has started to have conversations about who we are internally. I’m really hoping that continues once I leave.”

From graduate student to NCP English teacher and English department chair to Lindbloom assistant principal to NCP principal, Ms. Kelly Mest’s final departure from Northside will be deeply felt by students, faculty/staff, alumni, and the building we call home.

In 1999, as she was finishing her master’s degree at DePaul University, future Principal Kelly Mest participated in a workshop led by Northside’s first principal, Dr. James Lalley. Intrigued by his ideas about education and what it would mean to become a part of an innovative educational journey, she introduced herself by promptly handing him a copy of her resume. That is how Principal Mest met Dr. Lalley before the school even opened, becoming a founding member of Northside.  

“[What] was really attractive about the Northside educational philosophy was… [the acknowledgment] that young adults…have working minds…and should have some voice and some say in their own education,” said Principal Mest. 

I was grateful for how attentive and open she was to students’ concerns and how willing she was to provide solutions.

— Megan Dalalo (Adv. 107)

After a detour on her journey back to Northside took her to a suburban district for a year, Principal Mest said, “I realized very quickly Chicago was where I needed to be.” She then made another stop at Lindbloom Math and Science Academy before returning to Northside nine years later as our principal.

Ms. Marion McCreedy, Northside’s director of special programming, recalled meeting Principal Mest for the first time at the Local School Council meeting, where she was voted as the new principal. “I felt that she had a really great vision for the future of Northside,” Ms. McCreedy said. “When Northside was created, they were taking risks for education. For example, with the block system and colloquium… From the moment she stepped into the building, I felt that she was the right person to move that forward.”

Principal Mest with teachers at Prom.

During her time at Northside, Principal Mest started the first Student Voice Committee, initially a principal advisory council. The committee unites students and administrators with the goal of addressing issues facing the school. “I was grateful for how attentive and open she was to students’ concerns and how willing she was to provide solutions,” said Student Voice Committee representative Megan Dalalo (Adv. 107).

As the first Black principal and the first female principal of Northside, Ms. Mest has worked to ensure that everyone has felt seen and heard. “One of the ways in which I was challenged had to do with leading a school where less than 8% of the student body, and even less of the faculty, looked like me,” she said. “I learned a lot from that:…how to reconcile and listen to different voices and perspectives… on what’s best for the whole student community.”

…her guiding question was always the following: How can we create more opportunities for student exploration and success in and out of the building.

— Mr. Snow (English Department)

A major accomplishment implemented under Principal Mest’s stewardship is N:Vision. In its second year, this four-year program “recognizes there are a lot of pathways in education,” said Principal Mest. According to the program description, “The N:Vision program is centered around big, messy questions that are interdisciplinary and project-driven. N:Vision moves away from traditional grades and rethinks high school with unique schedules, community partnerships, experiential learning, and nontraditional evaluation to solve real problems.”

Mr. Alexander Hughes (Counseling Department) expressed his appreciation and respect for Principal Mest: “Her guidance for me has been monumental. What I’ve learned from Ms. Mest is she will advocate for what you need, and she will do her best. I never got that from any administration in my time. That’s what I really appreciate about her leadership.”

Principal Mest was instrumental in bringing College Board’s two-year diploma-granting AP Capstone program to Northside. According to College Board, “Students who complete AP Seminar and AP Research with scores of 3 or higher, and receive scores of 3 or higher on four AP Exams in subjects of their choosing, will receive the AP Capstone Diploma™. Until this year, she taught the second course in the AP Capstone sequence (AP Research) with Mr. Randy Snow (English Department) teaching the first-year course.  Mr. Snow said, “Whenever I have had conversations with Principal Mest about curriculum and teaching, her guiding question was always the following: How can we create more opportunities for student exploration and success in and out of the building.”

Principal Mest with students on a trip to Japan

Principal Mest’s former students also reflected on their unforgettable experiences with her during their time at Northside. “Ms. Mest always gave us the freedom to explore within our work and make our own mistakes,” said Monfaye Nabine, 2020 Northside graduate and Boston University freshman. Nabine delightfully recalled when Principal Mest would bring in donuts for her entire AP Research class. 

“She was so analytical. Anytime I brought up an idea or potential topic, she would ask so many questions that did not even cross my mind,” said 2020 Northside graduate and University of Southern California freshman Olamide Babayeju. “She didn’t want us to see this as just a school project but as a way for us to add to the greater conversation.” Babayeju added, “Anytime I visited her table, I left with a smile.”

2019 Northside graduate and University of Pennsylvania sophomore Oralia Quiñones remembers when Principal Mest gave each of her AP Research students Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book Gmorning, Gnight! with her own final words added as a senior year keepsake. “She was the true definition of an educator,” said Quiñones. 

Principal Mest sporting a “Maroon Madness” t-shirt for virtual spirit week

Let’s also not forget that she is responsible for the complete bottom-to-top renovation of the library into a learning space of beauty and comfort that rivals any high school.

Finally, she has been a masterclass in navigating the administration side of teaching and learning through a pandemic.

Principal Mest shared one last lesson with the student body: “Ask questions, engage, learn, soak it up, be reflective, think about the ways in which you can be responsible in what you get from high school, and get to know yourself as a learner now.”

Principal Mest with Mr. Hughes