Dr. Jeremy Hritz: An advocate for students12/01/2020 12:31PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Dr. Jeremy Hritz, the principal of Kennett High School, would often sit in on meetings of the National Honor Society, an organization with a chapter at Kennett for high-achieving students.
It was not just his frequent presence that left an impact on students like Cole Verrico, a 2020 graduate. It was the way he challenged them to be leaders.
“It was a very powerful message,” Verrico said recently, adding that Hritz is “someone who looks for the best in all individuals.”
So much of who Hritz is as principal of a school with more than 1,300 students begins and ends with the students.
Assistant principal Jeff Thomas sees it in Hritz’s “student-first mentality.”
“The connections that he makes with the students, the care that he has for the students, I think is phenomenal,” Thomas said. “He’s a very caring principal, always trying to do what’s right or best for the students. All the decisions he makes are what’s in the best interests of the students.”
Current senior Max McKinney has seen it in his years at the high school through Hritz’s presence at things like school events and pep rallies.
“You know who he is if you go to Kennett,” McKinney said. “He’s kind of everywhere in the school.”
Kennett Consolidated School District Superintendent Dusty Blakey described Hritz as an advocate for the children and a leader who promotes positivity.
“Dr. Hritz is very much engaged in the future success of your children,” Blakey said. “He has developed a system that implores students to partner with our school through their engagement and involvement in extra-curricular activities. These genuine partnerships between students and staff help build the desire and enthusiasm to achieve in all aspects of our school community.”
When Kennett High School starts hybrid instruction, a new group of students will get to know Hritz as more than just the person they’ve seen on Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings so far.
“We want to make sure the kids feel safe and welcome,” Hritz said, adding he and the rest of the administration and staff are “focused on making sure the day is fun for the kids and everything is safe … just making sure that experience is just an optimal experience for everybody.”
Hritz’s journey to the top administrator in the high school began when he was a student himself at Bethlehem-Center High School in western Pennsylvania. It was where his teachers challenged him to expand his learning.
“I had some great teachers when I was in high school,” the husband and father-of-three said. “My favorite teachers were my English teachers … they really cared about me and pushed me hard.”
He added, “I liked being challenged and realizing what I was capable of. I really became obsessed with learning.”
After high school, he went to Penn State where he began what would become his quest to earn multiple education-related degrees.
“I’m very much of a goal-driven person and I like to set targets for myself,” he said. Those targets can range from running marathons to broadening his educational background.
Over the years he has earned a bachelor’s degree, three master’s degrees – the most recent one in special education, and one doctorate. He spent 10 years in Maryland as an English teacher and then assistant principal, served as an assistant principal at Kennett Middle School, and now as the main principal at Kennett High School since 2015.
“When I first met Dr. Hritz, he was an assistant principal at Kennett Middle School,” said Duane Kotz, an assistant principal at Kennett High School, recalling that Hritz at first seemed like a serious person. “I wasn’t sure if he ever smiled.”
But the more Kotz got to know Hritz, the more he saw how Hritz was “always focused on doing what is best for our students.”
“He is serious when it comes to his work, but since I have gotten to know him better, I now know that he has a great sense of humor and he is a lot of fun to be around,” Kotz said, adding that the administrative team “has a lot of fun working together.”
It’s obvious in talking to Hritz how important the district is to him.
“Our district is such a special district,” he said. “Working with my colleagues here at all the different schools, I get to see the quality of work that goes into the kids. We really are lucky to be part of such an amazing community. This really is a special place.”
In all his years as an administrator, this year – with the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent shutdown, and beginning the year in a remote setting -- has presented a number of challenges for which his student-driven approach has helped guide the way he has handled whatever is thrown his way.
“We are just trying to preserve as much possible,” Hritz said of the remote start to the year. “Right there along with the academics is making sure the kids are OK.”
Another priority is the health of the students, not just physically but emotionally.
“We try to do things for their social and emotional well-being (and) how to keep things as normal as possible in a very unnatural environment,” he said.
Blakey said one of the biggest challenges Hritz and the other administrators have faced during the pandemic is flexibility.
“This unprecedented circumstance has forced all of us to become very pragmatic and thoughtful, yet flexible, given the ever-changing nature of the last eight months,” Blakey said.
Graduation was a perfect example. The traditional ceremony for the hundreds of seniors couldn’t happen in the traditional way because of the pandemic and the shutdown restrictions, but the district was committed to some sort of graduation ceremony.
Ultimately there was a drive-through graduation ceremony at the middle school in late July.
“I’m glad we were able to give something to the kids,” Hritz said, calling the ceremony “very successful” and a “team effort.”
Verrico recalled Hritz reaching out to the graduating class about the ceremony, adding, “He also did a great job reaching out to the seniors making sure we had the best experience.”
Hritz said one consistent goal, especially during the pandemic, is making sure the high school families feel connected. He encourages parents and students to give feedback.
“I can’t tell you how many things we’ve done at the high school are from feedback from parents or students,” Hritz said. “I’m just very grateful. It shows that the community is very much interested.”
Blakey said Hritz has always “emphasized building positive relationships with all constituents.
“Dr. Hritz never turns away a student or staff member that needs support and continues to work tirelessly to provide all with access and opportunity to achieve desired outcomes,” Blakey said.
That access and opportunity can be seen in Hritz’s desire to get students more involved in the school community.
“He has emphasized student involvement in clubs, athletics, and activities,” Kotz said. “We have seen a significant increase in student involvement in extra-curricular activities, and there have also been many new clubs and activities added during his tenure as our building principal.”
Hritz balances his responsibilities as the Kennett High School principal with his responsibilities at home. It’s clear from talking to him how important his family – his wife and three children -- is to him.
“They’re everything to me,” he said.
Hritz has been able to experience remote learning as both an administrator and a parent. His son started kindergarten online this year, and Hritz called it an interesting experience.
“Our teachers don’t get enough credit for what they do,” Hritz said. “Here at Kennett I’m just so lucky with our amazing staff. They are what makes the school successful.”