Kristy Hart never planned to be an educator.
“From a small child, I wanted to be a park ranger. I just love being outside,” said Hart, a camping, hiking and biking enthusiast who is now the principal of Cherry Creek Elevate, the Cherry Creek School District’s new online high school.
Hart followed her childhood passion to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where she earned a degree in Conservation Biology. She then began living her dream as a park ranger in Lincoln, where she led nature hikes for elementary-aged children during the school year and did conservation land management during the summer. Somewhere along the way, her path diverged.
“I just fell in love with the teaching part of my job,” Hart recalls. “And I was really drawn to the teaching of science. I was never unhappy in my original career – I loved it – but it was leading me on these other pathways.”
So Hart went back to school and earned her teaching degree at the University of Central Missouri. She spent one year teaching elementary school and four years teaching middle school science in the Kansas City area. She then moved to Colorado, where she taught one more year at the middle school level followed by five years at the high school level in Douglas County. She found she had a talent for guiding other teachers, and became a teacher coach at the Douglas County online school that served students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Three weeks into that position, her principal asked her to take an assistant principal position. Three months later, her path diverged yet again when her principal was moved to a different school and she was asked to take the top job.
“I was really fortunate in that circumstance that I had a lot of great people around me who were fabulous resources. They trusted in my ability and they trusted in who I was as a leader,” Hart said. “Because it was such an enormous risk to take, it made me grow as a professional.”
During those years, Hart’s personal life took a tragic and unexpected turn, when her husband passed away. She was a single parent for two years, until she met and married David Hart. (No relation to CCSD CFO David Hart.) They are joyfully raising Haden, now a fifth-grader, and daughter Lexi, a second-grader, along with a dog named Lacy May.
“Being a parent has changed my lens as an educator and a principal,” Hart added. She believes the divergent path she has followed has given her a special empathy and affinity for the diverse students she will serve at Elevate – many of whom have struggled in the traditional school setting or face major health or life challenges.
“Because of my background, it makes it easier for me to understand where kids are coming from,” Hart said. “I understand that struggle. Every kid who is looking for an online school is looking for a solution to something. I like to brainstorm and be creative about problem-solving.”
The past seven months have been nothing but brainstorming and problem-solving, as Hart has worked to create the culture, develop the curriculum, hire the staff and plan the physical space for the first online high school in the Cherry Creek School District. Through it all, students have been her motivation and inspiration.
“You think about students all the time in the planning process and what their needs are going to be,” Hart said. “But then when you actually have students applying, it becomes real.”
Elevate enrollment and registration begins January 31 via the school’s website. Hart expects about 250 students for the 2019-2020 school year. Elevate students must live in the Cherry Creek School District. In the future, Elevate will serve an unlimited number of full-time students as well as part-time students who are also taking classes at their home high school. Hart can’t wait to meet them.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do this,” she said. “I don’t take the trust the district has put in me lightly.”
Those who know Hart believe that trust is well-placed.
“I think Kristy is the perfect person to do this and I’m so glad Cherry Creek picked her,” said Elevate math teacher Ray Ruginis, who worked with Hart in Douglas County and jumped at the chance to join her in Cherry Creek. “She’s going to do a great job.”
Learn more about Cherry Creek Elevate here.