In June 2019, Katie Hecklinger was an assistant principal at Chevy Chase Elementary School. After working in the Montgomery County Public Schools for more than 20 years, she was a step away from becoming a principal.
But then she resigned.
Hecklinger had just lost her mother, and she felt like she needed time before deciding if she even wanted to be a principal. But school districts, as she explained, do not offer sabbaticals.
The morning after her resignation, Hecklinger was scrolling LinkedIn when she discovered a job opening with the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown. The performing and visual arts venue was looking for a director of education. Hecklinger applied and got the job. She started that November.
“I value the education of the whole child,” she said. “I don’t think math and reading come without creative and critical thinking.”
When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, Hecklinger moved her programs online and started adding “an element of wellbeing” to each of them. Children would work not just on art, but on therapy and mental health. Classes focused on mindfulness, personal pursuits and overcoming obstacles, among other subjects.
Hecklinger enjoyed the work, and her efforts helped her become chief program officer in January 2021 and chief executive officer in July 2022. She hopes to eventually introduce her approach to art in local schools.
“I can’t believe I get paid to do this,” she said.