Heather Kurut

Lower School & Middle School Principal; Middle & Upper School Chorus

B.A., Potsdam College
M.F.A., Illinois State University
M.A., State University of New York

hkurut@morganparkacademy.org

Q&A

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I am now more than 20 years into my career in education. Sometimes, the specifics of what I enjoy most about teaching depend on the subject I am teaching that year, or that particular group of students. Some years, I most enjoy the curiosity of students, or their strong sense of justice. Some years, I am most impressed with their enthusiasm or their drive to learn something new. The over-arching answer, however, is the same as it was when I started teaching in 1997 – I really like kids. It’s hard to be a kid (which I think a number of us forget) and I most relish those opportunities I have to make difficult kid-stuff a little easier.

How did you choose Morgan Park Academy?

I came from a college teaching background and had every intention of returning to being a professor after completing my second Master’s degree. However, full-time, permanent teaching jobs at the college level were rapidly disappearing in a changing economy. I took a part-time adjunct position in Chicago, and answered a want ad for a part-time drama teacher at Morgan Park Academy.

The job description intrigued me, but the prospect of teaching Middle School terrified me. I had loathed Middle School as a student. My grand plan was to take the job for one year and continue to search for college positions. That was in 2002.

Instead of being ill-suited for Middle School, as I had feared, I found that my own Middle School experiences made that level an ideal fit. I remembered what it was I didn’t like about school and made every effort to effect a change in my own classroom. My mantra was “If I can make one kid’s life a little bit better, in just one class, then I have achieved something.” I am thrilled to get to work with that on a larger scale now as Lower and Middle School principal. My goal, each and every day, is to help students feel safe and comfortable at school.

Who are your mentors?

My favorite high school teacher, Mr. Fleischer, was my Chorus teacher. He passed away a few years ago, and I went home to New York for the memorial. Turns out he was the favorite of many former students, and for the same reasons: he expected us to work hard, had seemingly impossible high standards (which provided a tremendous sense of accomplishment once achieved), and got to know each of us as individuals. He praised us when we deserved it, and talked us through it when we failed. He was a good listener, and gave solid, non-judgmental advice.

In college, I was surprised to find how much I loved a class that I dreaded having to take: Native American History and Politics. While I was interested in the history aspect, I feared the political subject matter. The professor, Dr. DelGuidice, was so fired up about the subject that we, the students, couldn’t help but become impassioned, too. Dr. DelGuidice taught me that, if you love what you teach, you will inspire and engage your students, too.

I am the child of a retired teacher (who continues to work in education). As a college student, I used to go help out in her second grade classroom while on break. Each day, she greeted every student at the door, offering a hug, a handshake or a high five. She said goodbye to them the same way. From her example, I learned to recognize each and every student as an individual, and that there is no such thing as a “bad kid” – there are only poor choices. Every student is worthy of love and respect, and every student wants to be seen and heard.

In my time at Morgan Park Academy, I learned a tremendous amount from former principal Barbara Tubutis and former teacher Thomas Malcolm. From Mrs. Tubutis, I learned that students need the space to fail or make poor choices, and also need the opportunity to give back to the community to help repair any damage. From Mr. Malcolm, I learned that treating students with dignity and affirming your pride in them is more important than just about anything else, and that being a lifelong learner sets a tremendous example. And that it’s always a great day at Morgan Park Academy.

What are some of your interests and hobbies?

I love to sing, both as a church soloist and in other venues, and I crochet and sew. I both teach and practice yoga, and I have completed the 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer twice. I am a lifelong baseball fan, with a particular affinity for my beloved New York Yankees. My husband and I are raising twin girls – MPA class of 2032 – and we love to go on adventures as a family, both in Chicago and on road trips.