Hart plotting his next course after retirement

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Beginning his final approach, piloting Liberty Hill ISD through to the end of 2018, Dr. Rob Hart intends to set the district down easy before handing the controls over and embarking on his next journey over the horizon.

Aviation was the first career choice for the man who has piloted Liberty Hill over the last decade as superintendent, graduating from Northeast Louisiana with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation well before teaching was ever even a thought.

“That was my first career pursuit was aviation, but I graduated in 1980 and that was a really tough time economically,” Hart said. “Pilots were being furloughed and it was tough all the way around.”

After a few years in refineries for the Beaumont native, his wife put the teaching bug in his ear, and 34 years later Hart is stepping away from education.

Exactly what is next for Hart is up in the air.

“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “I’m going to take some time off at first. I can’t go from 95 miles per hour to nothing. I’ve got to do something.”

Travel, a chance to do more flying again and get a good 30,000-foot look at what direction he might go next is the loose plan. He said his time in Liberty Hill has been rewarding and successful and it was just the right time to say goodbye.

“It’s time to get off,” he said. “It’s like a merry-go-round, and deciding when you get off. You always leave when you are on the top, I like to think. We’ve done a lot and I think we’re in a good place, and it would be a good opportunity to step aside and let somebody else take the ball and go from here.”

The next person that steps into that superintendent role will have a great opportunity in a great community that is on the right path.

“This is a great job,” he said. “Not only have we built a good program, but what comes with that is a great
reputation. I’ve loved it here, it’s been a great community with great support. My message going forward is to continue to support Liberty Hill ISD, continue to stay involved. It is one of the best school systems in the state.”

The tremendous annual growth in Liberty Hill, which brings new campuses and new opportunities, is a long way from his first days of teaching in Bastrop, Louisiana,

“I call those my boot camp years because it was bare bones,” Hart said. “We didn’t have duty-free lunch, we didn’t have conference periods, we had kids all day. The facilities were old, but it was great and we enjoyed it.”

After a couple of years, the Harts moved on to Athens, Texas, where he taught, then moved into administration, first as an assistant principal and then a principal. Hart served as the Assistant Superintendent in Eustace ISD for six years and landed his first job as a Superintendent in West in 2000. He has been in Liberty Hill since 2008.

“It’s been great. Professionally, we’ve done a lot,” Hart said of his time in Liberty Hill. “There’s never been a dull moment because there’s always been something going on, there’s always been challenges – mostly growth.”

The growth leveled off some in 2008, but by 2011 it was going strong and has not slowed since.

“That has been a fun challenge to me. I’ve enjoyed that, but it is tiring because you are just trying to stay ahead of that growth,” he said.

Today, Hart points to one day that signaled the biggest change for the community during his tenure.

“The one thing that I think had the most impact over the last 10 years for this district and the community is Nov. 2, 2010, when we passed the bond issue for the high school,” Hart said. “It lit the fuse and kicked things off, and the whole community has never been the same since, in a good way. We’ve had good growth here. There were a little over 2,400 kids when I came here. When we open the doors this year we should be over 4,400.”

The district has passed another bond since and voters will be asked to consider another one this November. Hart said the support of the community comes from the trust that has been built with the school district.

“I think they all can see that,” he said. “We’re growing, and yes, we had one in 2016, but we told them then this wouldn’t be the last time. We’re part of a growing community and you can’t deny that. It is pretty much a common sense message. The trust is there because we’ve done report cards after every bond election and we’ve always been on time and under budget and we’ve always delivered everything we’ve promised.”

The next superintendent will have the same charge in dealing with growth.

“Stay ahead of the growth,” he said. “It is happening at such a fast rate that if you ever fall behind, you will play catch up the rest of the time. It’s not just buildings, it’s busses, it’s staff, it’s everything that goes with the growth.”

Looking back over the last decade, Hart is pleased with where the district has come.

“I don’t have any regrets at all, I really don’t,” he said. “We’ve done it right. When we’ve done something we’ve done it right and that’s what I’ve said from day one.”
Community culture

Even with all that growth, Hart is proud of how the district has remained true to its community character, with everyone being a Panther, and everyone feeling they have a part and place.

“We try not to allow any kid to become anonymous,” he said. “We want them involved, it is better for all of us if they are. That’s hard to do as you get to that 900-1,000 mark in the high school.”

Involvement of every student means many offerings and extracurricular opportunities.

“One of the things we’ve worked hard on and I’ve been proud of is that even though we’ve doubled in size, we have still worked hard to maintain having as many students involved in as much as they can,” Hart said. “I’m a strong believer in extracurricular activities because they support the academic side, too.”

Success in extracurricular activities connects directly to success in other areas, according to Hart.

“They’re all part of the puzzle to me,” he said. “You can see when we start having success in multiple areas it continues. People want to be a part of that. You pick 20 people that moved here and ask them why, they’re going to say the schools, but what part of the schools? Is it the athletics, the academics, is it our special programs? It’s different for everyone.”
Capitol curiosity?

While Hart isn’t sure what lies ahead, he did say the next legislative session, which begins a few weeks after his official retirement, will have his attention.

“I’m going to watch the legislative session starting in January,” he said. “I am interested in that aspect of it. I will support public education, I always will, so I’m going to spend a little time at the capitol and see how I like the political arena.”

As another session kicks off, Hart hopes the Texas Senate steps up more for Texas schools.

“I just wish the Senate supported public ed (education) like the House does,” he said. “The House Education Committee is very strong in supporting public ed, the Senate not so much right now. We’re struggling in that area. Public education is challenging enough as it is, but when you have people sometimes against you, that’s another fight that we don’t need to be fighting.”

The nature of the education business has evolved in Hart’s 34 years, but one thing has not.

“The goal is the same,” he said. “The methodology has changed completely. Special programs have changed a lot – special education and identification of special needs.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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