How Katie Jarnot is carrying on her father’s legacy of preparing students for success beyond high school
From 1973 to now, the father-daughter duo have helped build post-secondary pathways for Eagle County students
Growing up, kids often look to their heroes to figure out an answer to the perennial question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And so, from firefighters to astronauts, kids emulate their future off figures that feel larger than life. Many times, this includes their parents. And while following in your parents’ footsteps is no easy feat, when it’s done right, you can build a family legacy.
For the Jarnot family — who have called Eagle County home since 1973 — this legacy is rooted not only in education but also in helping students figure out their next steps after high school — whatever path they take.
Bob Jarnot — following in the footsteps of his mother who served as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse — was a longtime business teacher at Battle Mountain, first when it was located at Maloit Park and then when it was where the Homestake Peak School currently resides. Now, his daughter Katie Jarnot serves as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the same school district in which he taught and she attended school.
‘Not the path I was going to go’
However, Katie Jarnot’s path to her current role — and to education — wasn’t as straightforward as one might think.
“I’m very proud to say I’m a third-generation educator, but yeah, he had to force me into it; that was not the path I was going to go, but I’m glad I did,” Katie Jarnot said.
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Katie Jarnot initially went to college for Theatre and English in Illinois, only getting a teaching degree at the urging of her dad who wanted her to have a backup plan with something she could get a job in, she said.
However, her student teaching experience made that seem like her education degree was something she never wanted to use, so she went into a career producing large-scale events, museum exhibits and documentary films.
But, after 10 years, she decided to give teaching another try in a school district in New Hampshire.
“I really loved it; it was the right school district; it was small, it was well-funded,” Katie Jarnot said.
Quickly, however, when evaluating her first teaching paychecks, she decided to go to the “dark side” and get into administration.
“Having grown up the daughter of a teacher, administration was the dark side, it was the man, you don’t do that,” she said. “But I took a class and I realized that being a principal was the same thing as being a producer; you have a finite amount of time, you have a finite budget, it’s your job to make sure it all gets done and the kids are the talent and the teachers are the director and you’re the producer and I just went ‘Oh yeah, I could really like this.’”
This path in administration is eventually what brought her back to Eagle County and to the same district her dad had taught in. And for over 10 years, she served as the principal of Eagle Valley Middle School before taking on her current role as assistant superintendent in 2018.
In her current role, Katie Jarnot oversees a number of programs, staff members and curriculum — but a big part of her role has been nurturing and growing the district’s career and college readiness programs including AVID, CareerX, CareerWise, Early College High School, and ASCENT.
It wasn’t until recently, she said, that a “light bulb went off” and she realized she was following directly in her dad’s footsteps in many ways.
“I was here having dinner with my parents, playing cards or something, and all the sudden, this light bulb went off and I realized my dad used to do what we do in CareerX and CareerWise and even AVID,” Katie Jarnot said. “He did all of those things back in the day when that’s what the business teacher at the school did, and now we have this whole five-person team that is reaching every kid in the district, starting in sixth grade.”
When Bob Jarnot first joined Battle Mountain High School after moving to Eagle County in the 1970s, he was the only business teacher. As such, he taught everything from accounting and keyboarding to business law and entrepreneurship.
Over time, he witnessed not only the changing skillsets in these classes — as keyboarding progressed from manual typewriters to electric typewriters and eventually to keyboards — but also was able to grow a number of meaningful career-based programs for students.
Specifically, Bob Jarnot started the local chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America — something still in place in the district today — as well as a co-op program that helped students find employment in school — something now reflected in the district’s CareerX, CareerWise and other readiness programs.
Through the co-op program, Bob Jarnot said he helped kids find jobs in various offices from local banks to Vail Town Hall. Through these opportunities, students not only got school credit, a paycheck and real-world employment experience, but a chance to learn valuable life skills and develop interests, that “they’re going to use the rest of their life,” Bob Jarnot said.
“I think getting that exposure to the workplace early on is really important, I think it helps kids realize what’s out there in the world that they might not otherwise experience,” Katie Jarnot said, of both her father’s work and her own.
The classes and programs — through Bob Jarnot himself — also helped them consider their college and career options and plan for their future, as he taught students in every class he taught “practical, everyday things that you’re going to use in life,” he said.
The success of this program — and the legacy of Bob Jarnot — was, and remains, evident in the Eagle County community.
“There was a point in this valley where I could not go into any bank, anywhere in the valley, where someone didn’t say, ‘Oh are you Bob Jarnot’s daughter? He got me this job! I’ve been here since high school,’” Katie Jarnot said. “A lot of those kids would stick with those jobs and rise through the ranks and end up being really successful.”
Bob Jarnot also recalled a recent moment when he went to a local machine rental business in Eagle and ran into a former student. This student, Bob Jarnot said, told him the best thing he learned from school was from a stock trading program — ran at the time through The Denver Post, which he used in his business courses. The lesson, the student said, “helped him with his retirement, more than anything else,” Bob Jarnot said.
While the co-op program took a hiatus for “20-some years,” after Bob Jarnot left Battle Mountain, it’s returning through a number of programs that Katie Jarnot now oversees. And, they’re growing exponentially, Katie Jarnot said.
“When I was in school, either you were going to college or you weren’t going to college. There wasn’t a whole lot of support if you weren’t going to college, and I feel like that’s where a lot of the programs that my dad worked on, helped kids either to explore that track,” she said, adding that she recalls her dad having many conversations with his students about considering the various options available to them out of high school.
“Now, I’m really proud of the fact that we have so many different pathways, and no matter what your background or where you’re from, you can explore it, you can look at it, we’ve got ways for kids to — you can get an associates degree before you graduate from high school and transfer into college as a junior, and for free and save money,” Katie Jarnot said. “It just exposes kids to so many different things and I think that’s really, really important, that we have so many options now — having those opportunities is important.”
While many of the things that Bob Jarnot worked to build at Battle Mountain are rapidly growing fixtures of Eagle County Schools under Katie Jarnot’s leadership, the father-daughter duo agreed that their success and growth are also the results of the growing population locally and the growing need for these programs nationally.
Katie Jarnot noted that Eagle County Schools was the “first rural district in the state to have CareerWise, the first rural district to have early college high school and one of the very few to have P-Tech” — a testament, she said, to the population here.
“I think parents expect a lot more for their children than what they had and the question is: Will their children ever have a chance to improve their life?” Bob Jarnot said. “I think we have rather forward-thinking parents in Eagle County that are willing to support programs that will improve their kids’ lives: it’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic. It takes more than that today to have a future in any area of work.”
For Bob Jarnot, it has been great to see not only the continuation and growth of programs that he believed in but also to see solutions to some of the challenges he saw students facing when he taught. This includes the introduction of Red Canyon as an alternative high school in the district — which he called a “great improvement” as it allows all students an “opportunity to better themselves.”
A proud legacy
Even as Katie and Bob Jarnot are still discovering how their careers overlap, talking shop is not something that often occurs when they’re together.
“I don’t think we sit down and have school discussions because I’m too far out of it to have a discussion about what’s going on in the classroom today kind of thing. But we have more or less philosophy discussions about education,” Bob Jarnot said.
While he’s out of the classroom, Katie Jarnot added that her dad does often remind her to consider the teacher’s perspective.
“You will call me out when I’m not paying attention to the teacher point of view,” Katie Jarnot said. “I appreciate that perspective.”
Plus, she added, while they don’t often talk business, she does like to share about the growth of the career and college readiness programs.
“I don’t know if I pick your brain that much, but I brag to my dad a lot,” she said. “Anytime we’ve grown the CareerX or the CareerWise programs, I feel like I definitely brag a lot to my dad.”
This, she said, stems a lot from the newly-found pride that she’s following pretty directly in her father’s footsteps.
“I just am so proud and when that light bulb went off for me and I realized I’m continuing on my dad’s work, that was just incredibly meaningful to me that we still have that going and we’ve grown it and look where we are now,” Katie Jarnot said.