By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – Kelleyann Royce-Giron knew very early on in her heart she wanted to be an educator, but never has the work been as personal as it is right now.
A 1990 Poughkeepsie High School graduate, Royce-Giron has Pioneer spirit running through her veins…and family. Her mother, Donna Ulbrandt, was a member of the Class of ’69 and her father, TR Royce, ’68. Other family members also proudly claim the Alma Mata distinction as do many of her friends to this day. From the moment Royce-Giron walked through Poughkeepsie High School’s front door as an incoming junior after transferring from Our Lady of Lourdes, she was forever positively transformed.
“I grew up with so much diversity, and there were only ten people of color at Lourdes; it just didn’t feel right,” recalled Royce-Giron. “I immediately felt comfortable here at Poughkeepsie High School and got an amazing education from some incredible teachers.”
She also became further inspired to chase her dreams of becoming an educator, attending Dutchess Community College; however the path was not always linear. Taking a job working for the military for the Child Development Centers through the Department of Defense for a few years, Royce-Giron was to experience yet another unpredicted shift in her career path.
“When my cousin unexpectedly died at a young age, it made me want to pursue counseling before teaching,” said Royce-Giron. “I saw there was a real need to help young people.”
In 1998 that opportunity arose when she joined the Peace and Order Team at Poughkeepsie Middle School for a couple years. Next, in 2000, she initiated her New York City Public School Career as a counselor, soon after embarking on a teaching path as a special education teacher. Ascending the ranks, she held several administrative titles, most recently as a Principal in the Bronx, a position she was content with, growing from and making a difference. And then, in September, 2019, the phone call came….and with it another pressing need.
“I heard they were looking for a Principal at Poughkeepsie High School; but didn’t even consider it when I first heard,” said Royce-Giron. “I had no intention of leaving my current job, but at the same time knew there was a real need at my Alma Mater.”
That pull would not let go of Royce-Giron, forcing her to truly sit still, think deeply and intensely reflect as well as have regular conversations with her long-time mentor. In touch with many familiar with the school and its situation, talk of the high school principal vacancy kept surfacing, inciting second thoughts in Royce-Giron.
“I started to realize, it might now be the time to change the narrative of what was happening at Poughkeepsie High School,” recollected Royce-Giron, who decided to take the leap of faith and join the application candidate mix. “I felt prepared and wanted to give back to a space that gave so much to me.”
After four interviews, Royce-Giron was officially appointed in February, 2020 as the new Principal of Poughkeepsie High School. Moving back to her home City with her husband after a 30 year absence, she is now absolutely convinced she is exactly where she is supposed to be. Walking the halls or watching a class inside the walls of her Alma Mater, she is greeted by familiar faces of her classmates’ children and grandchildren, a secretary she knew as a student, staff once her fellow classmates and déjà vu as she passes frequent nostalgic spots; she can’t help but be flooded with emotions, and it all just feels so incredibly right.
“This is community here; it’s family.” Affirms Royce-Giron, sporting a blue and white lettered Pioneer tee-shirt on a recent weekday, she can be found back at the high school hard at work. After just one month on the job, the highly energized Royce-Giron, who had already begun to make headway changing the fabric of her building, was forced to close her school doors in the wake of COVID-19 to that family of students and faculty that mean everything. However, tough times are no stranger to the veteran educator, and this pandemic has only made her, along with her surrounding team, stronger.
“I have been involved with many a crisis over the years and have handled them; it’s still about doing the work and up to the leader to keep the ship floating,” said Royce-Giron.
That vessel has been cruising as of late. Not only has Royce-Giron been in continual virtual touch with teachers and students, but she has made strong efforts to fuse her school with the community on multiple levels. And then there are the seniors and graduation. A day Royce-Giron will never forget, her Poughkeepsie High School graduation, was almost exactly 30 years to the date away, and nothing was about to stop her in making this year’s every bit amazing. Enter: The 2020 Commencement Celebration, chock full of activities including a Pioneer Senior Caravan, personally delivered awards and scholarships that she announced from outside the high school building and a filmed “Diploma Walk,” compiled and to be shown at Overlook Drive-in Theater.”
“It was so important that they had that moment,” Royce-Giron explained about the traditional stage walk, complete with emotional Pomp and Circumstance backdrop.
More than anything, the new Poughkeespie High School Principal does not want those special blocks of time, feeling to be reserved just for graduation, nor exclusively for senior class members. Rather, she wants the celebrations to be daily, including as many as possible.
“We need to keep on celebrating and recognizing students and staff,” said Royce-Giron, as she glanced at the large, colorful Senior Class Photograph adorning the outside of the building, a tradition she brought back. “We are also going to keep these graduation celebrations we did this year every year, as all senior classes deserve to have them.”
It’s through those traditions that pride, strength and academic success emerge, variables Royce-Giron is intent on fostering.
“We are stronger together; we need to all really, truly believe it,” said a smiling Royce-Giron. “Never did I think just four weeks after starting, we would be put in a situation having to be strong, but we really are and can only go up from here.” Surveying her office with pride she added, “I’m not going anywhere; this work is personal.”