Tony Karr, the new principal for Lewis-Palmer High School, is not a new face in School District 38.
Karr was dean of students at Palmer Ridge High School from 2012-14, followed by three years there as assistant principal before taking the top job at Lewis-Palmer.
This academic year, Karr, at 36 years old, is responsible for leading the 1,050-student school. He says he is honored to be the principal for the current freshmen — the class of 2021 — who will be the school’s 100th graduating class. Karr, who lives with his family in Colorado Springs, said that working at the smaller high school helped him prepare to take on a larger role at Lewis-Palmer.
“This is a school district that provides an amazing opportunity regardless of what school you’re at,” Karr said. “My roots are at Palmer Ridge … but there’s something to be said about a school district’s flagship high school and that’s what this is. I think their traditions and everything that gets honored at Lewis-Palmer High School is very important, and I’m very privileged to be a part of that.”
Karr, who used to teach technology, industrial and construction technology and STEM in Douglas and Eagle county school districts, said he hopes Colorado will continue to expand education options to help more students pursue multiple avenues to graduation, such as earning college credits through Pikes Peak Community College.
Karr spoke with the Business Journal about being the new principal at LPHS and shared his thoughts on the future of education.
Why did you decide to go into education?
I was a hands-on kid. I grew up working in the family apple orchard [in La Crescent, Minn.], and during college worked framing houses, so I had always known that I was that kind of learner. [I knew I] really needed to be hands-on, bringing the real-world practical experiences to my life. … I got into education based off a drive of wanting to give back and have been really blessed and fortunate to have a lot of quality people influencing me and helping me. … I had a need, a desire, a passion to give that back to the community. I played three sports in high school and was driven for success through playing sports, and the coaches that I had were all teacher coaches. So the influence they had on me and the impact they were able to have in the classroom and on the athletic playing field was definitely something I wanted to model.
What options are available for students who don’t want to pursue college?
We’re currently utilizing Career Start, which is a program through Pikes Peak Community College for students in their junior and senior years of high school to work on an associate’s degree or a certification in a specific area. We’ll definitely be looking at opportunities to expand concurrent and dual enrollment options for students … and looking to expand career and technical education pathways. So this freshman class will need to hit graduation competencies in math and English, and we will be expanding the opportunity for students to do that.
How can schools help fill trade skills gaps, like construction?
I really see that there’s a pendulum coming back for the need to develop and train people to fill those jobs, and Colorado is kind of in a job crisis where employers are recognizing that they’re not able to fill all the positions that are needed. To the state’s credit, having an emphasis [on graduation] — not just on kids hitting graduation requirements based off of an SAT or ACT cutoff score but also an opportunity through an advanced career certification. They recognize that as a very valuable pathway, and kids should have the opportunity to pursue that pathway. So I’m very hopeful that we will have a large number of students pursuing those types of pathways to reach their graduation competencies.
What advice would you give to other young professionals?
I would say listen and take advantage of the mentoring and the people that have come before you and have experience in the roles that you’re taking on, and learn from those experiences and listen to them, work with them, learn from them. Take advantage of opportunities to grow — take on new challenges. There’s always an opportunity to learn something new. Maybe muddle through it a little bit, but you’ll grow in the long run because of it.