Union Superintendent Change ‘Seamless’
By EMILY RAMSEY
NEW LEADERSHIP: Union Superintendent Cathy Burden, left, knows that the school district will be in good hands when she passes the torch to current Deputy Superintendent Kirt Harzler. Hartzler will become superintendent July 1, 2013. Hartzler has worked in various roles within the Union school district for 28 years as a teacher, coach and administrator. “So much of my life has been with Union professionally,” he says. “I love the school and the community. Union is the heartbeat of the community.”
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Union Superintendent Cathy Burden knew the day would come when the district would need to hire her replacement.
It was three and a half years ago, to be exact, she says. “I began thinking about when the time would come to transition (to a new superintendent), and I wanted to make sure it was done as thoughtfully and seamlessly as possible.”
The school board of education soon made the selection of Kirt Hartzler who has 28 years of teaching and administrative experience all within the school district.
“I am proud of Union’s accomplishments and want to see the district proceed in its course,” Burden says. “I feel confident that we have the right team in place to carry on the tradition and make Union bigger and better.”
When Burden first came to Union, her focus was on the idea of early education. “That was my passion,” she says. And during her years, Union has built four elementary schools, which have made room for all-day kindergarten and all-day fourth grade programs.
However, through the years, Burden has seen the district’s demographics and subsequent needs change. Over the past 19 years, the percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program has grown from 10 to 65 percent.
“My vision has evolved to include the responsibility we felt to provide the same expectations for all of our students as our demographics change,” she says.
That focus led to the creation of community schools brought about by various organization, business and faith-based partnerships within the community, including mental health and counseling organizations, the , Asbury United Methodist, and QuikTrip.
“We try to build a sense of community around the school,” Burden says. “This idea takes down the barriers of we’re the school and you’re everything else.”
Burden’s third focus during her superintendent years was working toward the goal of graduating students 100 percent college and career ready. “Students say they want to go to college,” she says, “but they need preparation during high school years as to what’s expected of them in going to college and what to major in.”
The collegiate academy recently opened and offers five different educational avenues: Concurrent enrollment at Tulsa Community College, Advanced Placement classes, mentoring opportunities—termed service learning, virtual learning and traditional classroom instruction.
The virtual learning educational aspect is one that Hartzler looks forward to growing, but a blended learning, he says, with a teacher behind every student.
“Blended learning uses the computer and high-quality teachers to allow students to work independently and also get assistance from their teacher,” says Burden.
Hartzler is quick to emphasize the need for a well-rounded educational experience.
“Full virtual learning is not the way to go for students,” Hartzler says. “There is a lot more to the educational journey than putting a student behind a computer. They should still be involved in clubs and organizations. They need social development, learning about others and working with them.”
At the core of each administrative decision has been the students and their success.
“Trying to personalize students’ learning experience has caused us to do some things differently,” Burden says. “That’s what caused us to make the decision to move our principals and counselors with their students as they go from grade to grade.”
This is something with which Hartzler agrees. “There’s no reason for me to come in and reinvent the wheel,” he says. “What they have started in the district, I want to continue that.”
Hartzler will officially take the role of superintendent July 1, 2013. He will bring with him the support of his wife of 27 years, Susan, and three children, two of whom have graduated from Union. His youngest attends classes in the district.
“I see Union as an extension of my family,” he says. “I think my kids would disown me if I went to work somewhere else besides Union.”