Former Upper Blue principal settles into new role as Summit superintendent
August 30, 2016
Editor's note: Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series on educators in the Summit School District who are taking on new roles this year.
After 22 years in Summit County, Kerry Buhler is a familiar face in Summit School District. This year, though, Summit's students, parents and teachers will be getting to know her in a new role: as the district's superintendent.
After former superintendent Heidi Pace, who served in the post for five years, announced her retirement in January, Buhler was selected as the next leader of Summit School District, leaving her post as principal of Upper Blue Elementary behind.
She was born in Montana but raised in the Front Range of Colorado, a place where she has deep roots: Her grandparents and father were born and raised in Salida. When she was in her teens, her father was transferred to California, so Buhler went to high school there. Afterward, she attended California State University-Fullerton.
Despite her current deep commitment to teaching, she was not always on the track to become an educator.
"I was actually a business major, and I was determined to be in the business world and have power and money," she said.
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However, she had always loved working with children; she was a gymnast and a diver when she was younger and spent a great deal of time coaching other students. One day in her senior year of college, she realized that this was how she wanted to spend her career.
After her realization, she went into her adviser's office and asked how she, as a senior, could completely change her major in one year. Buhler ended up taking a load and a half of classes and ultimately graduating with her bachelor's degree in liberal studies and an elementary education license.
"Best decision of my life," she said.
Although she had spent her high school and college years on the West Coast and had begun to teach in California, she was still drawn to the mountains.
"My husband is in the ski industry, and, because Colorado, to me, has always been home, after we got married, it was twelve years of figuring out how to get back to Colorado. We were determined," said Buhler.
For eleven years, she taught in California, and then she and her husband finally made it to Colorado in 1994. They arrived in the middle of a school year, so she worked as a substitute teacher and was hired as a first and second grade teacher for the brand-new Upper Blue Elementary School the following year.
After seven years of teaching first and second grade, she stepped into the role of principal of the school in 2003. She had always pursued leadership opportunities as a teacher, she said, and she felt she had a lot to offer her students and her community as principal. It was a challenge she wanted to take on.
Buhler served as principal of Upper Blue Elementary for thirteen years, helping to implement the International Baccalaureate system in the school, putting into effect standards-based grading, expanding the blended learning system (a method of implementing technology to meet individual students' needs) and integrating technology into the school's classrooms. She says that one of the most important lessons she learned as principal of Upper Blue was the power of teamwork.
"Communication, collaboration and commitment have made the difference," she said.
When Heidi Pace announced her retirement, Buhler saw the opportunity to expand her reach and to effect change in the broader educational community.
"I knew that I had a lot to offer the entire school district; I wanted to make a difference everywhere. So that was that," she said.
Her first official day as superintendent was on July 1.
She said that her primary goal as superintendent is to work toward the district's Vision 2020 strategy, a five-year plan formulated by Summit School District to elevate student learning.
The three tenets of the Vision 2020 plan are to champion student success, empower student-centered learning and develop caring learners.
"What's great about that is that people actually know what that means for them. So, no matter what role they have in the district, when we talk about empowering students in their learning, we know that we're talking about technology, we're talking about different kinds of opportunities for learning, blended learning, student-centered learning," said Buhler.
One of the most notable aspects of the Vision 2020 plan is the one-to-world technology initiative. Under one-to-world, every student in the district from second grade to twelfth grade has been issued a Chromebook laptop to use during the year.
Kindergarteners and first graders, meanwhile, learn in classrooms with a three-to-one ratio of children to iPads.
"We know that those little fingers and those little hands need kind of a different platform to start exploring their world," she said.
She and her team are emphasizing the use of technology not just to replace pen and paper, but also to allow students to connect with the world beyond their immediate experience and to broaden their horizons. This effort extends throughout the district: On Thursday, members of the board of education were issued their very own Chromebooks.
As exciting as these new initiatives are, implementing them will not come without challenges. For Buhler, the most difficult part will be a struggle that many educators face: meeting the needs of every learner and preparing them for life in a world that is always changing.
"The world our students need to be prepared for is, at this point, largely unknown," she said. "With that in mind, we must support students to be flexible thinkers who have a growth mindset. In this way, they will be prepared for the unknown and confident in their abilities to be collaborative communicators prepared to take on the world."
Her dedication to education must be genetic. Her daughter Sarah is entering her sixth year of teaching. After five years teaching at Silverthorne Elementary School, she is now teaching first grade at Frisco Elementary School.
Buhler's other daughter, Sarah's twin sister Shannon, is the product sales manager at Vail Resorts. The superintendent's husband, John Buhler, is the chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort. The family still has dinner together every Sunday.
In her limited spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking and watching scary movies. Her favorite children's author is Roald Dahl.
"The adventure that he takes kids on as they read is second to none,"she said.
The new superintendent also loves to jump on trampolines. She can still do tricks, from backflips to front flips to handsprings.
As exciting as trampolines are, however, Buhler is most excited to be involved in children's learning from preschool to high school and is anxious to watch education develop and improve across Summit County's schools.
"I'm just very excited about this opportunity and know that it's a huge responsibility — one I don't take lightly," she said. " I am determined to make sure that I really make a difference in our schools and for our kids and for our parents and our community and our staff."