Dr. Britton Hart has served as the principal at Emporia (Kansas) High School since 2014.
In that time, he’s seen hundreds of students walk the halls. But this year is special for him. Although he has looked forward to working with many students over the years, one in particular makes going to work each day a little more special. That student is his daughter, a freshman at Emporia High School.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot with my family over the years, and now I finally get to be around for her schooling,” Hart said. “I kept my distance those first few weeks, but now she’ll come up to me and say hi.”
Hart hadn’t always wanted to be in the education field. In fact, he started college in the mid-1990s as an engineering student, but he quickly learned it wasn’t a good fit.
“I just knew it wasn’t for me,” he said. “I was good at the math and science, but I just hated it.”
After reflecting and shadowing teachers, he decided to pursue secondary education and landed his first job teaching industrial arts and coaching track and field. After a few years he pursued a Master of Arts in School Leadership from Baker University. After earning his master’s in 2000, Hart served in his first administrative position for a few years before beginning his tenure at Emporia High School in 2007, where he spent seven years as assistant principal and athletic director.
It was during his time in that role that he decided to enroll in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program at Baker. Once a week, Hart made the hour-and-a-half drive from Emporia to Overland Park, Kansas, for class.
“My wife, Lisa, wasn’t super thrilled about that drive,” he said. “But the schedule worked for us. It was a one-time commitment each week, and we could make that work.”
Since graduating, Dr. Hart has stayed close to others in his cohort and stays in touch with his advisor, Dr. Verneda Edwards.
“I would say to anybody who wants to dedicate themselves to something, you cannot go wrong with furthering your education,” he said. “Programs like the ones Baker offers [give you] more than an education. It’s that network and the opportunity to meet new people so that you as a leader can build that group of people who will serve you well.”
The long drives and hard work have certainly paid off since Hart graduated in December 2013. Last July, he was named the 2016 Kansas Secondary Principal of the Year by the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals.
“The best thing that can happen is to be recognized by your peers and colleagues,” he said. “That’s the most humbling thing. This award is a direct reflection of our staff and students, and what they’ve done collectively as a team.”
Because of his nomination, Hart was able to attend the Principal’s Institute, which is held each year in Washington, D.C. During the trip, Hart was able to connect with other principals from around the country as well as advocate to legislators about topics educators today are facing.
“The networking and the team building were the most beneficial to me, just seeing what others are dealing with as principals,” he said. “We had great dialogue.”
When the school day is done, the after-school activities have wrapped up, and it’s time to head home, Hart is husband to his wife who is a preschool teacher, and a dad to three daughters, ages 14, 11, and 3.
“I think my job is easy compared to Lisa’s,” he said. “We live on a farm, and I like being outside and around nature. [When I’m at home] I’m usually working with my hands in some capacity, either in my yard or my shop. I like when I don’t have to go back into town and can just be myself at home.”
Hart counts himself lucky to have found a job he wants to continue doing for the rest of his life. He said it’s less about the math, science, and English and more about the other skills that students should be learning.
“I really love what I do,” he said. “I enjoying seeing those kids every day. I want to interact with them. They don’t think I’m old yet, and I enjoy that dialogue. But it’s not about me. It’s not about one person. It’s about a team, and we’re all doing it together. People that want to get into education should do it because they want to make a difference.”