Wake County school board member Kathy Hartenstine unexpectedly died Sunday night from what her family says were complications from the flu.
Hartenstine, 68, a retired educator, had been appointed to the school board in January 2017 to fill the vacancy caused by the November 2016 death of Zora Felton. The school district notified principals, many of whom had worked with Hartenstine when she was a principal, of her death on Monday.
“So sad to hear of the passing of @WCPSS Board Member Kathy Hartenstine ... a true advocate for teachers and schools,” Brian Pittman, principal of Holly Springs High School, tweeted Monday. “A loss for the Wake County Public School System. I will miss my friend ...”
Hartenstine’s family said in a statement Monday that she had passed away Sunday night surrounded by her family. A celebration of her life will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, 1800 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh. The family will receive guests in the fellowship hall at 12 p.m.
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“Her love for students and for public schools was apparent to everyone who met her,” Hartenstine’s family said. “We are comforted knowing the tremendous impact we know she had on the lives of young people for nearly two generations.”
School board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said Hartenstine’s death has left her colleagues “feeling numb” since they didn’t realize how ill she had become.
“Make sure you hug your loved ones tonight,” tweeted Wake school board vice chairman Jim Martin.
Condolences started pouring in Monday.
“This is very, very sad,” Wake County Commissioner John Burns tweeted. “Kathy was a dedicated public servant and a wonderful human being.”
Hartenstine brought 37 years of education experience into her position helping to lead North Carolina’s largest school system. She had joined Wake in 1987 and retired in January 2016 as principal of Baileywick Elementary School in Raleigh.
In her short time on the board, Hartenstine was a vocal advocate for supporting teachers and providing more school funding. Johnson-Hostler said that Hartenstine’s legacy will be of trying to make sure that teachers and principals had what they needed to help educate students.
“She was the consummate educator at all times,” Johnson-Hostler said. “She was clearly thinking of the impact to students and what that meant.”
Hartenstine was set to remain on the board for a two-year term since she was running unopposed on the November ballot for the District 7 seat that includes Morrisville, part of west Cary and northwest Raleigh.
Gerry Cohen, a former state legislative staffer, tweeted that it’s too late to print new ballots. He said that if Hartenstine gets more votes than any write-in candidates that the school board would appoint a person to fill out her term.
Hartenstine’s unexpected death resulted in cancellations Monday of several events, including a school district student assignment plan public forum and a school board candidates forum.
T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui