A Bartholomew County educator, hailed as a visionary who helped shape local education, will be recognized for more than four decades of contributions.

Karen Garrity, who worked for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. for 43 years, will join the school district’s Education Hall of Fame during a ceremony tonight.

“She is truly deserving of this hall of fame award,” said Bill Jensen, director of secondary education for BCSC, a former colleague who was among individuals that submitted a nomination letter on Garrity’s behalf. “Her work and dedication to students is non-comparable.”

Garrity, former director of elementary education for the district and 22-year principal as Mt. Healthy Elementary School, has demonstrated a dedication for helping young people throughout her educational career.

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“Certainly, I’ve always had a love for children, and helping them have some success at whatever they’re doing,” Garrity said.

Garrity’s role as a BCSC educator began as a teacher at the former State Street School, before moving to McDowell School. From there, Garrity went to Mt. Healthy and then became teacher center director for the district. Under the federally funded program, Garrity was responsible for planning professional development in grades K-12, but she later returned to Mt. Healthy as principal.

In 2005, she became the district’s first director of elementary education, a position she held until her 2012 retirement from the district.

Garrity started the district’s Book Buddies program, a volunteer tutoring program that helps second- and third-grade students improve their reading skills. She also launched the Busy Bees Academy, which provides pre-kindergarten opportunities for children at the R.L. Johnson Early Education Center.

What stands out about Garrity, however, was her vision for the district’s Columbus Signature Academy system, Jensen said.

Jensen had discussed developing a high school magnet program that would be based on project-based learning. But Garrity felt the approach would be successful at lower grade levels, too. As a result, CSA Lincoln and eventually CSA Fodrea elementary programs were developed.

“We were probably the first in the nation that showed a K-12 project-based pathway, and that was probably due to her vision,” Jensen said. “She was a pioneer with that whole effort. The demand was so high at the elementary level.”

Garrity said she recognized the importance of having students develop problem-solving skills — which everyone utilizes — at a young age.

“Her legacy will continue with kids going through the CSA program at Lincoln and Fodrea,” Jensen said.

Garrity also wrote grant requests on behalf of BCSC, securing an estimated $20 million.

Among her grant-writing accomplishments was securing enough money so computers could be placed in the homes of all fourth- to sixth-grade students who attended Mt. Healthy, and ensuring that all families had access to the Internet. The effort began around 1997 and continued until 2004, Garrity said.

Doing so helped remove obstacles so everyone had the same opportunities, since many families in the rural Mt. Healthy area did not have Internet access at the time, she said.

“Getting that really meant a lot to my students, but my families as well,” Garrity said.

Hall of fame honor

Garrity will join 38 BCSC teachers and administrators previously selected to the Education Hall of Fame for their contributions to the district. She will be recognized at a 6 p.m. reception and during a 6:30 p.m. school board meeting today at Northside Middle School.

To be considered, educators must have worked for the school district a minimum of 15 years as a licensed teacher or administrator. Individuals are selected by a committee of five that includes a teacher, administrator, parent, patron and school board member.

Garrity will receive a plaque as part of her recognition, while a second one will be placed in a school of her choosing.

She described the award from the district as an honor, adding that she knows all of the past recipients due to her longtime work with BCSC.

But Garrity also gave credit to those around her who also played an important role in shaping the district’s success.

“I’m certainly humbled by it because there’s so many deserving people,” she said. “It’s not just for me, it’s with all the people I worked with. It’s an honor for them, not just Karen Garrity.”

Ray Zeigler, a BCSC school board member who served from 1980 to 2004, commended Garrity for her efforts, which he said put her students at the forefront of education.

“Karen, to me, was always innovative as an educator,” Zeigler said.

Garrity, a native of Bartholomew County, credits her parents Louise and Urban Dalton in encouraging her to pursue the career path that she was most interested in — education.

Garrity, who now works at IUPUC as coordinator of student teaching, reflected on that choice.

“I’d be most proud to know that I made a difference in somebody’s life and gave a voice to people who otherwise didn’t feel like they had a voice,” she said. “When you see a child be successful and you see the smile on their face, and their whole demeanor changes, that has to make you feel good.”

If you go

A reception will recognize Karen Garrity’s induction into the Education Hall of Fame beginning at 6 p.m. today at Northside Middle School, 1400 27th St., Columbus. She will be formally recognized at the school during the BCSC school board meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m.

Karen Garrity bio

Age: 71

Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Franklin College; master’s degree in elementary education, Indiana University.

Career: 43 years with Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. — teacher at State Street School, McDowell School and Mt. Healthy Elementary School; teacher center director for the district; principal at Mt. Healthy; district’s first director of elementary education, the position she held until retiring from BCSC in 2012. Works at IUPUC as coordinator of student teaching.

Notable BCSC contributions: Started Book Buddies elementary school tutoring program and Busy Bees Academy for pre-kindergarten students; helped launch district’s Columbus Signature Academy system.

Other activities: Founded the Bartholomew County Literacy Task Force, serving as chairwoman.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com