Julia Keleher

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Julia Keleher
40th Puerto Rico Secretary of Education
In office
January 2, 2017 – April 1, 2019
Preceded byRafael Román Meléndez
Succeeded byEligio Hernandez
Personal details
Julia Beatrice Keleher

(1974-11-15) November 15, 1974 (age 44)
South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S.
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania (B.A., M.S.Ed.)
Strayer University (M.B.A.)
University of Delaware (Ed.D.)

Julia Beatrice Keleher (born November 15, 1974) is an American educational leader and was the 40th Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE), the island's only public school system with 856 schools, 300,000 students and almost 30,000 teachers.

Early life and education[edit]

Keleher grew up as an only child in an Italian community in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1] She graduated from Cardinal O'Hara High School[2] in 1992. Keleher earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (1996) and her Master of Science in Education in Psychological Services (1998) from the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (2007) from the University of Delaware and received her Master of Business Administration from Strayer University in 2013. She is a certified Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute (2009) and is certified in Strategic Decision Making and Risk Management from Stanford University.[3]



From 1997 to 1999, Keleher was a research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where she was a member of the team assessing the degree to which the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition) criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder resulted over-identification of Hispanic students in inner city schools. Keleher also worked as a school community liaison for Sylvan Learning from 1998 to 2000. As a liaison she designed and implemented programs to facilitate parent involvement in non-public schools in North Philadelphia. She worked with families, students, teachers, school administrators, and third party service providers (mental health, corrections, social services) to create and manage integrated service plans.[3]


Keleher worked for Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, Delaware as a senior project manager responsible for developing and implementing a new web-based assessment system and led change management effort around increasing use of data driven decision making practices. She also was the change management coach responsible for leadership and managing site-based teams implementing specific school-level improvement initiatives and the subject matter expert responsible for addressing public information requests on school accountability and providing capacity building trainings to school board members.[3]

Keleher & Associates, LLC[edit]

In 2009, Keleher founded Keleher & Associates, LLC, a woman-owned small business based in Washington, D.C. The firm provides strategic planning, project management, and performance measurement services to the non-profit, public, and private sectors.[4] On August 8, 2016, the firm obtained a contract with the PRDE for $231,030 dollars; the contract was valid until June 30, 2017.[5]

Keleher in 2018

US Department of Education[edit]

From 2007 to 2010, Keleher worked for the United States Department of Education (ED) as a program manager for Puerto Rico Technical Assistance Leader, where she operationalized and executed a strategy for increasing the department’s capacity to mitigate risk in the grant portfolio.[3]

George Washington University[edit]

Keleher has been an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Business since 2012. She teaches several master’s level courses focusing on project management soft skills.[3]

Puerto Rico Secretary of Education[edit]

On December 28, 2016, Keleher was appointed Puerto Rico Secretary of Education by Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló.[5] In her new role, Keleher said her goals were to transform the K-12 educational system by decentralizing the system, where previously all of the decision-making was held with the Office of the Secretary. She instituted seven Local Education Agency (LEA) districts, located in San Juan, Bayamón, Caguas, Humacao, Ponce, Arecibo and Mayagüez, with delegating authority, local decision-making, accountability and new structures.

In April 2018, the PRDE said they would be closing 283 public schools with the purpose of restructuring the public education system.[6]

On February 18, 2019 an order of arrest was issued for Keleher in connection with fraud with Rocket Learning company for a contract with the Department of Education of PR. The order of arrest was related to the failure of the Legal Division to submit documents to a federal judge related to a case from 2010, prior to Keleher's tenure.[7]

On April 1, 2019, after several controversies, cultural gaffes, and criticism from unions, Keleher resigned from her cabinet position. Upon completing her tenure, Keleher's accomplishments included 1) a new education law, 2) a new regional structure, 3) an expectation for basic programming at the school level, 4) strategic investments in bilingual education, STEM and Workforce Development, 5) a policy based budget and 6) a human capital development strategy.[8][9]

Federal indictment[edit]

In April 2019 news reports continued to surface about an investigation, by the U.S. Federal Government, into Keleher's work while secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education.[10][11] On July 10, 2019 she was arrested by the FBI and indicted on charges of wire fraud, theft of government funds, and conspiracy . The indictment indicates that Keleher benefited in no way from the alleged misdoings.[12]

Keleher's indictment on corruption charges couple with teacher, student and community disastisfication with how public education in Puerto Rico was being handled was one of the main contributors to the protests that toppled Ricardo Rosselló's governorship. Teachers led the protests against Rosselló after Telegramgate, which immediately followed the indictment of people in his administration, including Keleher.[13]

Hurricane Maria[edit]

On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by the most devastating hurricane in 100 years. Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane and crossed the island from southeast to north, causing a huge amount of physical and emotional devastation and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The hurricane left 95% of the island without communications, food, water and medical care, and all 3.4 million residents lost electrical power.

Like everything else on the island, schools were damaged and school were closed. A total of 164 schools were used as shelters for 9,931 people as a huge number of homes had been completely destroyed. Many of the schools that were not used as shelters were severely damaged by the hurricane, and an estimated 44 schools would never reopen.

World Central Kitchen chef José Andrés begged Keleher to use her power to order schools to open their kitchens and cook for their communities. Unsure if school officials would even receive the message because the internet and telephone service was down on the entire island Keleher posted a message, on her social media accounts, telling school officials they had permission to use school kitchens to provide food for hungry Puerto Ricans, who were struggling to find food in the days following Hurricane Maria. Later, a school administrator explained to Andrés that schools were required to do just that by law.[14]

On October 23, 2017, 33 days after the storm, the PRDE re-opened 152 schools in the regions of San Juan and Mayagüez. The department was then able to open more schools, starting on a weekly basis and then on a daily basis. As of November 13, 2017, a total of 755 schools had been re-opened, many of them without power but with running water. Keleher had first estimated that 80% of the schools would be open by mid-November; it turned out that a total of 932 schools (84%) had re-opened by November 16. The PRDE adjusted the school calendar so that students would be able to complete the 2017–2018 academic year.

Keleher argued the hurricane provided Puerto Rico with an opportunity to reform the public school system, citing comparable changes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.[15] On November 8, 2017, US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló, and Secretary Julia Keleher, paid a joint visit to the Loaiza Cordero School in the Santurce district of San Juan. Secretary DeVos announced that $2 million of federal funds would be awarded by the ED to aid in the recovery of the schools.[16] Keleher continued to work with the ED, private businesses and non-profit organizations in an attempt to help speed the recovery and transformation of the PRDE.


  1. ^ Animus Summit (August 3, 2018). "Animus Summit 2017: Julia Keleher - "How Perception Can Make or Break Change"". Retrieved June 11, 2019 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ "Storms and Reforms". Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e https://www.linkedin.com/in/julia-keleher-24946722
  4. ^ http://keleherassociates.com/about.html.
  5. ^ a b "¿De dónde salió la designada secretaria de Educación?". Primera Hora (in Spanish). December 28, 2016. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  6. ^ CNN, Nicole Chavez. "Puerto Rico closing 283 schools over sharp drop in enrollment". CNN.
  7. ^ "Orden de arresto contra Keleher podría provocar ola de despidos en el DE". NOTICEL (in Spanish). February 19, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  8. ^ "Julia Keleher renuncia como secretaria de Educación". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). April 2, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  9. ^ Mazzei, Patricia (June 1, 2018). "Puerto Rico's Schools Are in Tumult, and Not Just Because of Hurricane Maria" – via NYTimes.com.
  10. ^ "Federales solicitan al Banco Popular información sobre las cuentas de Julia Keleher". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). April 5, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  11. ^ "Striking defiant tone, Julia Keleher defends her tenure in Puerto Rico". Chalkbeat. April 5, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  12. ^ (PDF) https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6186999/Keleher-Indictment.pdf. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Martinez, Mercedes (August 17, 2019). "Teachers Fighting for Public Schools Were Key to the Uprising in Puerto Rico". Truthout. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  14. ^ "We Fed an Island : the True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. (Book, 2018) [WorldCat.org]". WorldCat.org. February 22, 1999. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  15. ^ Keleher, Julia [@SecEducacionPR] (October 26, 2017). "Sharing info on Katrina as a point of reference; we should not underestimate the damage or the opportunity to create new, better schools" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  16. ^ Keierleber, Mark. "DeVos Pledges $2 Million in Federal Money to Help Rebuild Puerto Rico's Storm-Wrecked Schools". Retrieved June 11, 2019.