By Martie Thompson
Crown Point Elementary School principal Brett Hartley said that education is in his blood — his whole family is involved in education in some way and his father is even a retired principal. Strong in math and science, Hartley tried to go in a different direction than the family business; his original dream was to be a pediatrician. After graduating from high school in Polk County (he was in the International Baccalaureate program) he went to college at the University of North Florida to fulfill his dream. An upper level class in quantitative analytical chemistry made him change his mind when he decided that maybe chemistry wasn’t as much fun as he originally thought. He ended up focusing on his more creative side and obtained his degree in communications with an emphasis on advertising instead.
Today, he is an accomplished educator who has earned Teacher of the Year honors twice — once in 2007 at Denison Middle School in Winter Haven and again in 2009 when he was also a semifinalist for Duval County Teacher of the Year, representing Twin Lakes Academy Middle School. He has been principal of Crown Point Elementary School since 2016.
Q: How did you get from your communications degree into the education field after all?
A: Even when I was still in college, when I went home to Polk County for winter break, I would substitute teach at the middle school there. After graduation, I decided to give in to the education call and get my teaching certificate. I taught middle school math for four years at Denison Middle School and then a teacher who was a strong mentor for me retired. So I decided to go back to Jacksonville and teach there. I taught seventh grade math at Twin Lakes Academy Middle School for about five years before I was promoted mid-year to sixth grade assistant principal. From there, I served as assistant principal at Fletcher Middle School and Wolfson High School before coming to Crown Point as an assistant principal under retiring principal Jayne Owens-Thompson for a year. She was amazing and taught me so much. I became principal the next year.
Q: What was it like to transition from middle and high school to elementary school?
A: Going from middle school to high school wasn’t too big of a deal, but it was very scary to go from secondary to elementary. It was a big decision for me, but I had a lot of people encouraging me to try it — and since I always want to do every experience I can get, I decided to try it. I’m so glad I had the year as assistant principal first. At this point, I don’t want to go back to secondary school. I love elementary school — the positivity of the kids and their eagerness to learn. This is the right environment for me.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: Definitely trying to balance everything. I want to create a positive environment where kids can learn and that has to be balanced with the need for test scores and accountability. I try to push hard, but in a positive, warm and loving environment.
Q: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
A: Definitely the kids and watching them grow and learn. I also have been known to slide down the playground slides with the five year olds! This year will be my sixth year at Crown Point and this year’s fifth graders were kindergarteners when I started, so I’ve seen them the whole way. It’s amazing to see their journeys. I also enjoy working with our teachers. I’m blessed to have an incredible and hard-working staff. They make my job so much easier.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I have two rescue dogs, both chihuahua mixes, that keep me busy: Sophie and Oliver. I also like to relax and maybe watch some television … just zone out from the “busy-ness” of being a principal. I like to swim and visit friends and I just took up ballroom dancing lessons this past year. Sometimes I find myself dancing at Publix!
Photo courtesy Brett Hartley