Principal's award part of 'amazing year' at Rolling Meadows High School

In a year that already included a visit by first lady Jill Biden and three Cabinet secretaries, Rolling Meadows High School Principal Eileen Hart added one more recognition Friday to cap off her long career in education: state high school principal of the year.

Hart was recognized by the Illinois Principals Association in part for leading early implementation of Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Career Pathways program, which drew national attention to the school in November with the appearance of Biden, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and then-Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

"It's been an amazing year with Dr. Biden coming in the fall and now, to receive this, it's an absolutely incredible way to end my capstone year," said Hart, who is retiring at the end of this school year after 33 years in District 214, including the last 12 at the helm at Rolling Meadows.

"All this great work that we've done collectively. This speaks volumes about the work that we've done together."

Hart was surprised with the news Friday morning during a ceremony in the school theater. She knew she had a chance at the statewide recognition after being named the North Cook regional finalist; she also was a regional winner in 2017.

Chosen among 21 statewide regional finalists, Hart will be recognized at the principals association's annual conference in October.

District 214 co-interim Superintendent Laz Lopez - a state principal of the year awardee himself exactly a decade ago when he was at Wheeling High School - pointed to Hart's "courage and conviction," turning around years of stagnant academic growth, expanding access to early college opportunities and leading the career pathways implementation.

That includes Rolling Meadows' status as one of the few high schools in the area to offer an agriculture pathway. Hart also secured the funding to build a state-of-the-art greenhouse, recruit staff members and develop a veterinary assistant program in partnership with the College of DuPage, Lopez noted.

David Wietrzak, Rolling Meadows' division head of career and technical education, physical education and health, complimented Hart for her attention to diversity, equity and inclusion work and for creating a curriculum that recognizes cultural differences.

Hart, a graduate of District 214's former Forest View High School, started working for the district in 1989 as a special education assistant. She spent 17 years as a social studies teacher and division head at Wheeling before becoming Rolling Meadows' principal in 2011.

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Rolling Meadows High School Principal Eileen Hart is congratulated by Lisa DaRocha, associate principal of activities and operations. Hart was named Illinois High School Principal of the Year on Friday by the Illinois Principals Association. Courtesy of District 214
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