Two brothers who each lead an independent school in Charleston have taken home two of the top awards given to administrators statewide.
The S.C. Independent School Association named Erik Kreutner its Rookie of the Year, which goes to the first-year head of school who has had the biggest impact on his school. Erik leads Mason Preparatory School, a downtown kindergarten through eighth-grade school that has been in existence for nearly 50 years.
Erik’s brother Jason Kreutner received the Dr. Charles S. Aimar Educational Leadership Award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding leader among the association’s 112 schools. In 2007 Jason opened the University School of the Lowcountry, a non-traditional Mount Pleasant school that puts a premium on students learning outside the classroom and taking three foreign languages.
“Erik has done an outstanding job at Mason Preparatory School ... and I’m just in love with (University School),” said Larry Watt, executive director of the Independent School Association. “It must be something in the genes.”
Neither Kreutner brother knew he was being considered for an award until it was announced Thursday afternoon at the association’s annual Heads’ Conference in Columbia.
The Kreutner brothers share a similar background, but their professional paths diverged over time. Both grew up in and graduated from Charleston’s independent schools, and both found their way into education after coaching swim teams.
Erik got a teaching job at Mason Prep after he graduated from the College of Charleston, and he has stayed at the school for 24 years. Jason worked at a few independent schools, from Columbia’s Heathwood Hall Episcopal School to Porter-Gaud to Charleston Collegiate, before deciding to strike out and start his own school.
They respect each other’s work and sometimes bounce ideas off of one another. Erik values Jason’s experience with different schools and his ability to be innovative with a new school. Jason aspires to have a mature school with a long-lasting culture and supportive alumni, and he admires those aspects of Mason Prep.
Both talk about their schools like proud parents.
“We’ve created a community, and we stand for something now,” Jason said. “We’re a small school, and we’ve learned a lot from other schools. It’s neat to see people find what we’re doing compelling.”
“Both of us are humble,” Erik said. “To us, (the validation) is when we see kids who have gone on to high school and college” and find success, and they attribute some of that to their early education. “That’s the validation.”
In awarding the Rookie of the Year honor, the association cited Erik’s work in spearheading a new kindergarten program, starting a 1-to-1 iPad pilot program and reconfiguring its elementary foreign language curriculum.
Erik was named interim head of school in June 2012 and got the job permanently in January of this year. He said his experience as a technology director gave him the chance to work with teachers to incorporate 21st century learning in their classrooms, and he wants to engage students as much as possible.
“It was nice to be recognized,” he said. “We have had a direction we want to move in, and ... we have seen the need to make changes. Having a board that has been willing to give so much of their time has been fantastic.”
Jason has grown his school from eight students to 70 in grades three to nine, and they plan to have a full upper school.
For his leadership award, Jason was praised by the association for taking a unique approach that enabled lessons to be taught outside the classroom. And they noted the quality of the school has been validated when it entered and won the statewide middle school math competition on its first try.
“Experiential education is not unique, but basing the school’s curriculum around 30 or more field trips certainly is,” Watt said. “He could not do that at a public school but it works and he’s doing such a good job.”
The third head of school award from the state association went to John Davis, the head of Faith Academy in Summerville. He won the volunteer of the year award, which recognizes leaders who have been willing to host or coordinate events for the association.
Davis agreed to host the association’s literary competition, which will involve more than 700 students going to his campus for the day.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 843-937-5546.