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An avid baseball fan, Karen Garrity said she loves rooting for the underdog.
She’s enjoyed doing the same in her career as a teacher, principal and director of elementary education in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
“I’ve always been a person for people that don’t have a voice,” said Garrity who, as a past principal at rural Mt. Healthy Elementary, secured grant money to place computers in the homes of all the school’s fourth- through sixth-grade students and provide Internet access to families who couldn’t afford it. The difference that effort made was most evident at a school-wide science fair, Garrity said.
“It was amazing to walk in (to the fair),” she said. “Every child had the chance to do research online. Every child had a quality display. That’s kind of what I’ve always been about, leveling the playing field.”
Garrity, who will attend her last official school board meeting tonight, has announced she will retire this month after 43 years with BCSC — a career her colleagues said has transformed classrooms here and nationwide.
“She’s really changed education,” said Bill Jensen, BCSC’s director of secondary education. “Can many administrators say that? I would say very few.”
Jensen said the best example of Garrity’s visionary thinking was several years ago when the school district was in talks to start a new high school, Columbus Signature Academy New Tech, which would focus its curriculum on project-based learning in a technology-rich environment. If research said that learning approach was best, he said Garrity asked why it wouldn’t make sense to use it to serve all grade levels, thus paving the way for magnet elementary schools Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus and Fodrea Campus.
“She really was the pioneer of taking that New Tech model and extending it,” Jensen said. “She was the first in the country for New Tech.”
Jensen also praised Garrity for starting the county’s largest volunteer program, Book Buddies, her work advocating for early childhood education for all students and organizing the Literacy Festival, which attracts thousands of residents annually.
And she’s done it all from right here in Bartholomew County, where Garrity said she has lived her entire life in three houses on the same road and still raises dairy cattle, pigs and some crops.
Garrity, 65, got her first taste of teaching as a fourth-grader at Ogilville Elementary, where she substitute taught for two days when her teacher couldn’t make it into school because of heavy snowfall and ice-covered roads. A self-proclaimed lover of school, Garrity went on to graduate cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Franklin College and a master’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University.
She has taught at Mt. Healthy, McDowell School and State Street School; been director of a district-wide teacher center; and served as principal at Mt. Healthy and summer school programs before becoming BCSC’s first director of elementary education in 2005.
John Quick, the school district’s superintendent, said Garrity’s deep roots in the county and political savvy — her mother, Louise Dalton, was a school board member — have made her a tremendous asset to the school district.
“You hope that when you work for an organization, that when you leave it, you leave it better than you found it. Certainly, that’s the case with Karen and this department,” Quick said.
Quick said Garrity is incredibly bright, a grant-writing guru and fearless when asking about help for students. But she’s also a great friend and will be missed upon her retirement, he said.
“She’s built quite the department,” Quick said. “I kind of tease her that I’m not sure who everyone that works for her is.”
Jensen said he will miss having Garrity’s can-do attitude at work every day.
“She just doesn’t see obstacles,” Jensen said. “Or if she does, she finds a way to get it done (anyway).”
Garrity said a lot of people talk about her grant-writing skills — she has helped the district earn more than $10 million in grant money — but that money is only important if it helped staff members and students “become more of what they could be.”
She said she’s seen people accomplish great things with the proper tools and training.
“I think children, and I’ve learned adults too, are much more capable than we give them credit for,” Garrity said. “Because given the right set of opportunities, it’s truly amazing what they can do.”
If you work hard and have commitment and passion, “then I believe you can do anything, no matter who you are,” she said.
Garrity, who enjoys spending time with her family, including five grandchildren with a sixth on the way, said she has “unrestricted plans” for the future and is open to new challenges and adventures. But she envisions that she’ll always be involved in education in some way.
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