A Union of Minds

Kirt and Susan Hartzler ’85 have put their heads together for one of Oklahoma’s most hypercompetitive school districts

By Bryce Wilks

Kirt and Susan (Woods) Hartzler know the value of an engaged student. Or in their case, the value of more than 16,000 engaged students across the Union School District in suburban Tulsa where Kirt serves as superintendent.

Union’s schools are populated by approximately 1,100 students at each grade level, with at least 52 languages and every possible social demographic represented.

The Hartzlers’ aim is simple: Engage every single student with a well-rounded academic experience that results in a 100 percent graduation rate.

“My belief is that schools don’t simply serve the public, but that they create the public,” Kirt said. “So by creating engaged and educated students, we are actually creating a more engaged and educated society.”


Dr. Kirt and Susan Hartzler serve in key roles at Union Public Schools in suburban Tulsa. Union helps lead the way for urban school districts across the nation with audacious goals for engagement and graduation rates.

Their efforts don’t stop with traditional students, as Susan serves as director of the Adult Education Learning Center, where more than 3,400 adult students pursue their GED or receive language training.

Together, the Hartzlers help lead innovation in a district that orbits in an extremely competitive educational solar system. The Tulsa area hosts the four largest high schools in the state: Broken Arrow, Union, Jenks and Owasso. While the districts compete in academics, athletics and the arts, they also work together to drive expansion.

“We all push each other to have a growth-oriented and progressive mindset within our schools,” he said. “But the one thing that probably captures the essence of our success is engagement. At Union, we have almost 90 percent of students engaged in fine arts or athletics, and that engagement maximizes the opportunities we provide.”

Among those opportunities are the district’s virtual learning program, the adult education center, a collegiate academy and a new $30 million elementary school equipped with technology to serve students and their families. Those offerings combine with some of the state’s premier athletic and fine arts facilities to provide the well-rounded experience the Hartzlers desire.

“What we’ve seen is that athletics and the arts have given us avenues to reach students that might otherwise have been missed,” Susan said. “And that extends to our adult education programs where we actually connect the students in our program with those in the community that have employment and training opportunities. It creates a bind between our community and schools.”

Both Kirt and Susan are products of the education department at Evangel. Kirt was recruited to play basketball by former coach Aundrae Curtis and played three seasons for recent Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee and current head coach Steve Jenkins. The Willard, Missouri native held EU’s career points record from 1985-90 and coached basketball at the high school level for many years prior to moving on to higher levels of administration.

Susan came to Evangel from Ohio, and after teaching middle school for a decade, pursued her graduate degree in school counseling. She continues growing her expertise today as a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University.

With so much accomplished, Kirt and Susan see there is still much to be done in the pursuit of their audacious goal to see every single student find success in their district.

“We’re only in year three of our strategic plan to see every student graduate and become college- or career-ready,” Kirt said. “We’re not there yet, but we make progress every day to be the best in Tulsa County and the state of Oklahoma. And we want to lead the way for urban school districts across the nation.”