Twelve senior members of Princeton Day School's faculty and staff have shared plans to retire in June. This profile of fourth grade teacher Chris Hart is the third in our series on these long-serving and much beloved faculty and staff members. (The most recent profile is of Upper School history teacher Eamon Downey, which you can read by clicking here.)
Head of School Paul Stellato wrote in the most recent issue of the Journal, "Consider the impact of a group whose years of service on our campus reach into the hundreds, whose guidance, care, and direction have enriched the lives of thousands of students, parents, colleagues, and friends, and whose influence on the course and culture of our school can be measured in her unbridled prosperity, her national reputation, and her unwavering optimism." Here are stories of these esteemed members of our faculty and staff as told by their colleagues: Chris Hart, by Tarshia Griffin-Ley, Middle School humanities teacher.
"When my family and I received confirmation that our daughter, Adayliah, would be entering Kindergarten at PDS and that I would also be teaching at PDS, we were elated. Though joining this dynamic institution was a personal accomplishment, it was also a challenge; a new environment meant that I had to prove myself worthy of my position. My first year at PDS was much like a first year for any teacher anywhere, except that here at PDS, I had Chris Hart as my unofficial mentor.
During my interview, I gathered two essential qualities about Chris Hart (whom I have come to call simply, yet affectionately, Hart): 1) she is forthright, and 2) she is genuine. So naturally when I had a query or concern, Hart was the first person I sought out. Even beyond school-related issues, Hart was someone that I confided in about my personal troubles. For instance, knowing that she would have sage advice to offer, I revealed to her my concerns regarding my health, as I was troubled by the reappearance of a lump found on my chest. Any other respected colleague would have consoled me and pointed me in the direction of the best specialist, but not Chris Hart. She resolved to go with me to the doctor.
This potentially somber occasion would require missing a day of school, and given our newfound friendship and considering that people would assume that we were merely committing an act of truancy, we devised a plan for Hart to call out sick while I would take a personal day. We agreed that Chris was to meet me at my house in Trenton. In this way, we would be less likely to be found out, and we could simply walk to the station to catch a New York-bound train to my appointment at NYU's Cancer Center. Immediately upon setting out on our trek to the Trenton train station, our attention was drawn to this incessant honking that rose above the cacophony of the rush hour traffic. We reeled around expecting to answer a lost driver's questions or witness an obnoxious driver's temper tantrum, but instead Chris was identified by a PDS parent, earnest in his attempt to greet her. Busted! (Really, what were we thinking?! Hart had been a staple at PDS for at least 20 years at that time, so that's at least 640 pairs of parent eyes that could recognize Chris Hart in a line-up... blindfolded.) We laughed it off and assured the parent that we were not just playing hooky, which the parent reassured us was none of his business either way.
Giggly and incredulous, we resumed our journey. This chance encounter proved to be a catalyst for a temporarily carefree existence en route to the medical center. With some of the anxiety lessened, we rambled about the city until my appointment. When we finally got there, Hart had managed to assuage my fears and make me hopeful because, no matter what, I would not have to bear it alone.
From that day on, Hart and I became our own rendition of The Odd Couple, celebrating holidays together, attending each other's families' events, and becoming the friends that we are today. Though over the years we have become more of an unlikely trinity or a quirky quartet, adding more friends into the fold, no matter the number in the circle. Chris Hart is forever at the center, knitting us together with more than just humor but with her ability to empathize, to be honest, and to inspire.
At first glance, one might mistake Hart's affable demeanor as flippant, disruptive, or even gimmicky, but she is anything but those things. If you or your child have been blessed with being serendipitously placed in Mrs. Hart's class, then you know firsthand of the magical, transformative experience that Chris Hart gifts every child and parent in her care. Chris Hart's magic is that she is there on each of her students' journeys, just as she is on mine, every step of the way, helping them to become more of who they fully are and to overcome barriers they didn't think they could cross. I have had the benefit of being one such recipient. And though it brings me some sorrow that Chris will not be there in the Lower School when I make an impromptu visit or need to borrow something for my class, it is a delight to have worked beside her and a true honor to be able to call Chris Hart my friend. And who knows, maybe in her retirement, we will actually get to play hooky and deliberately plan something fun."