SUTTONS BAY — After 25 years, Tom Kelly is turning the helm of the Inland Seas Education Association to a new captain.
Fred Sitkins will serve as the next executive director of the Great Lakes schoolship program that gives people of all ages a chance to raise anchor and hoist sails of the tall ship schooner, Inland Seas, docked in Suttons Bay.
Students also learn about the Great Lakes ecosystem by trawling for fish, collecting plankton, and sampling the lake bottom. Along with the schoolship experience the ISEA offers an onshore program with hands-on exhibits at its education center and museum.
Sitkins first crewed on the ship as a volunteer in the 1990s when he was in his early 20s.
That experience steered him toward college, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s education degrees. He subsequently became the youngest principal in Michigan; he became Boyne City Elementary School’s principal at age 30. He’s been at the school for 13 years.
“When we interviewed him, everyone was blown away by this guy,” Kelly said. “He’s really got the energy, the passion, he believes in the mission. Plus, he’s got the experience of managing an elementary school. He knows management, budget and grant writing. I told him my major goal is to make sure he’s successful. That he’s going to do it right.”
Kelly will work side by side with Sitkins for 10 weeks, beginning Oct. 21, and will officially leave the job at the end of the year. He plans to continue with donor relations and volunteering on the tall ship schooner.
Sitkins said he is excited about his new job.
“This is almost a fairy tale. The dream job can come true,” he said. “I am in awe of the organization, and certainly I want to continue the tradition and see what it’s grown into since my involvement in the 1990s.”
Sitkins said many find the trip on the boat as a magical and life-changing experience, and he wants to capitalize on that strength. He also wants to explore providing opportunities for teacher training statewide.
“If you want to teach about aquatic ecology and protecting the Great Lakes, we’re the experts in that area,” he said.