Dr. Robert Hartman: The man who made Carmel schools great

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Commentary

By James Garretson

Today, the Carmel Clay community lost one of its great leaders and a man who can share the credit for
what is today the best city in the nation in which to live. His name was Dr. Robert Hartman. He was 81.

Most people agree that the Carmel Clay School system is one of the best in the Midwest. Whether at
professional meetings nationally or state meetings, people have a high, but often envious, opinion of our
school system. How did it get that way?

Obviously, the nature of the community has been a big contributor. A higher percentage of patrons with
college degrees; higher income levels which normally accrues to highly motivated parents is a big reason.
There certainly is an expectation by families in our community to see their kids go on to college. About 90
percent do so.

However, it also takes leadership within the system. Carmel Clay has been blessed with excellent school
boards through the years, ones that put a premium on quality education, academically, athletically,
physically. We’re a long way from the 1950s, when one school board member responded to a teacher’s
request for more money, “Well, son, the price of eggs hasn’t gone up.”

In 1968, Carmel’s first superintendent of schools, Forest Stoops, decided to retire and go to work for an
architecture company pitching its services to school districts around the state. The school board launched
a national search, and what they found was a 38-year old superintendent of an “elementary” district in
Illinois. He was Dr. Robert Hartman.

Hartman would remain superintendent for 25 years. I’ve always contended there are two types of
leadership: percolate-up and drip-down. The former encourages staff to be innovative and lets the new
ideas percolate up from the grass roots, and if viable, gives all the support a leader can give can to the
enterprise. The latter, a product of many newly minted Ph.Ds and Ed.Ds, in my opinion, believes, or at
least practices, the drip-down approach.

These “modern day” leaders believe they should lead by coming up with the ideas then passing them down
and letting the troops get in line. Not Hartman. He let his principals manage their buildings and staffs. He
let them apportion resources among departments and grade levels according to needs as they saw fit, not as
a central office saw fit.

Hartman gave encouragement to principals and teachers when they had new ideas, being it expansion of the
curriculum, new approaches to grading, new techniques and strategies for teaching. By the time the ideas
reached school board level they had a built in constituency of teachers, parents and administrators.

Perhaps times have changed, and certainly the system is bigger than years ago, but I don’t think the basic
approach to leadership has changed. Carmel Clay patrons owe Hartman a huge debt of gratitude for his
leadership in the great growing years of the school district.

James Garrison is as Carmel resident and retired teacher and department head, Carmel High School. You may write
him at info@youarecurrent.com.

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