HMS Principal Ackley has always been a Pirate.

January 25, 2022

HMS Principal Ackley has always been a Pirate.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press. 

HART — Kevin Ackley is in his 11th year as principal at Hart Middle School and has been an educator in the district for 23 years.

Ackley began his teaching career at Mason County Central, where he taught for one year, and then took a teaching position at his alma mater. “I started out teaching fourth grade and then moved to the seventh grade,” he recalled.

Ackley was hired as principal, replacing Steve Sanocki who took an administrative position at North Muskegon Public Schools.

Ackley graduated from Hart High School in 1993 and then obtained his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University. He graduated from GVSU with a science major and math minor and then went on to obtain a master’s degree in educational leadership from Central Michigan University.  

“I tell the kids, ‘I went to the same middle school as you — we’re Pirates. That’s what I’ve always been.’” He jokes with the students that he never made it out of the middle school. “‘At least you guys get to be freshmen,’” he tells them.

In addition to serving as an academic role model for the younger Pirates, Ackley has served as a coach for several sports. A three-sport varsity athlete in his high school years, he provides a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with the Pirate athletes. 

He has coached middle school girls basketball, wrestling at both the middle and high school levels and middle school track. “I love coaching.” Right now, he’s coaching middle school rec basketball.

Ackley and his wife Britney have four children: Lynae, Seth, Caleb and Grant. “All four of them are involved in sports.”

Teaching and coaching seem to be in Ackley’s blood. His mother Linda taught at Shelby Public Schools for 25 years. His sister Cathy Enns taught at the elementary level at Whitehall Public Schools before raising a family, and his maternal grandfather Glenn Fisher was a teacher at Bates School in Muskegon many years ago. His brother Calvin teaches seventh grade science at Hart Middle School. Ackley also has aunts, uncles and cousins from his mother’s side who were teachers at Shelby, Muskegon, and Muskegon Heights over the years. His cousin Kathy Walton teaches STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and computers under his leadership at HMS. His sister, Mindy Whitney, and her husband Brad have coached track and wrestling in the Hart district for many years. 

“When I started in this position, one of my main focuses was to connect and develop relationships with our kids. We care a lot about our kids and we want to see them succeed. That’s one of my favorite things about the role is getting to know the kids. That’s the part that is so much fun about this role.

“We have a ton of great kids here, and Hart is really blessed to have a good school and good kids. The number one reason I got into education is working with the kids.”

Ackley stresses that student connection with his staff, too. “Once you get to the heart, you can get to the brain. Once you know them and know their story, you can help them.”

One of the many challenges to the job is the current teacher shortage. “I used to get 20, 30 or 40 applicants for a job, and now I’m lucky to get two or three. We’ve seen that happening before COVID, but COVID has certainly expedited that.” Finding substitute teachers has become an even greater challenge. There has been some juggling of staff to fill in when a teacher is out sick, sometimes resulting in Ackley returning to the classroom to cover. “We’ve been weathering the storm pretty well.”

Ackley said part of being a principal means being able to deal with unanticipated changes to the day’s plans. He has even rescued teachers who have ended up stuck in the ditch on a snowy day on their way to school. “You never know what you’re going to have, but the day goes fast.

“I’ve got a great staff, and that sure makes the job nice, too.”

Ackley oversees 400-420 students and 30-35 staff members in the 5-8 grade building. He makes lists to prioritize and organize his many responsibilities. 

“Kevin is a great teammate,” said Superintendent Mark Platt. “His leadership has focused on the importance of positive relationships. Kevin is honest and cares about people. 

“Over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of pictures we’ve shared of fish we’ve caught,” said Platt. “He’s a great angler.

“The number one thing I respect about Kevin — besides his fishing skills — is that he has a great handle on the life/work balance. His family is extremely important to him. I’ve always admired his ability to balance that area.”

The Hart native said he feels blessed to be able to work in the community where he was raised. “I grew up a Pirate.”

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