Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Darrin Hartness is all about relationships

Share this story

  • Darrin Hartness has served as a vocational teacher, principal, chief technology officer, assistant superintendent, superintendent, and is now president of Davidson-Davie Community College. "It's really all about relationships," he says. #nced
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Editor’s Note: President Hartness passed away on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. Beloved and respected by us all, here is more information about how to invest in an endowment and scholarship honoring his leadership and his legacy.

Darrin Hartness has always been an educator. He has served as a vocational teacher, principal, chief technology officer, assistant superintendent, superintendent, and is now president of Davidson-Davie Community College.

Regardless of his role, he told us, “It’s really all about relationships.”

Courtesy of Davidson-Davie Community College

Hartness excelled at being a superintendent, first in the Mount Airy City Schools and then in Davie County Schools.

In November 2017, he was the recipient of The William and Ida Friday Medal for Educational Innovation, awarded for his strong, innovative leadership “with documented results in improving students’ learning and implementing digital-age approaches to teaching and learning.”

Courtesy of The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation

Months later, in May 2018, Hartness attended a community forum when Davidson-Davie was looking for its next president. When he heard what the community thought the college needed in a leader, he decided to apply.

“I’m ready for a new challenge in my career and my life,” he told his wife, Lisa. “I’m going to put my name out there and open the door and if its not the right fit, God will close that door and I’ll be where I need to be.”

God did not close the door.

Life lessons from childhood

“Stop and count to ten before reacting. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Listen more and talk less.”

His priority

“A priority of mine is to create a culture for each other, for our faculty and staff, and for our students. If we take care of our faculty and staff, then they will take care of our students.”

Racism is real

In the days after the murder of George Floyd, Hartness issued an invitation to the state.

He started by acknowledging, “Racism is real. People are hurting. People are angry.”

“The events of the past week,” he said, “have caused me to believe even more strongly that we can create a better place to live peacefully together with love and compassion towards one another.”

“At Davidson-Davie,” he continued, “we are committed to do our part in providing a campus climate that is free from racism, prejudice, or hostility, but instead is welcoming, inclusive, caring, and compassionate.”

“Will you join us?”

On economic development

Hartness noted the need for a cohesive, team effort when recruiting new business to a county, and the importance in bridging the communication gap.

From K-12 to community college to other businesses already located in the region to the county’s economic development leaders, communication and communication all the time makes a difference, said Hartness.

Everyone needs to understand, he said, “what we are trying to do, what types of business we are trying to attract, what supports we need to have in place when that business arrives, and how we can sustain that over time.”

On debt

“Facing the turbulent waters of debt is exhausting and consuming,” said Hartness.

To students nervous about the cost of college, he said, “We see you, we hear you, and we are here to assist you.”

“The beginning of a journey to a fulfilling job with a living wage will allow you to use what you earn to enjoy a better life instead of paying down debt.  You are not ‘a loan!'”

So Hartness began to ask, “What would it look like for us to have a program to ensure that every student that graduated from high school in this community — whether it’s public high school or home school — would not have to worry about tuition and fees and would have a book stipend to go to college?”

On the importance of service

On Nov. 12, 2019, Davidson-Davie Community College held a “Day of Service.”

More than 250 of the faculty and staff spread across Davidson and Davie counties in teams ready to make a difference.

The day consisted of over 50 different projects directly helping the agencies and organizations that serve the communities. Project sites included schools, public spaces, community centers, nonprofit organizations, and so many more agencies and locations.

“I think it so important for our community to see our employees giving back to the agencies that support us and our students,” Hartness said.

The next day of service is March 8, 2023.

On our global world

Davidson-Davie Community College was a 2021 recipient of the Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, recognizing excellence in integrating international education throughout all facets of the Davidson-Davie experience, according to a press release.

The college continues to be one of only a handful of community colleges to participate in the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants program, hosting visiting scholars who spend an academic year teaching world language on campus.

The college also offers several short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs each year with destinations including Costa Rica, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, France, Japan, and Argentina.

“Helping our students gain a deep understanding of our changing global community and how their careers and lives fit within a global economy is a priority,” said Hartness.

On bearing witness

At a meeting of superintendents and presidents. Courtesy of Darrin Hartness

As an educator, in all of his roles, Hartness has watched students get through high school and take that next step. “To be part of that experience,” he said, “of watching them go into a career or a job that is going to make their life better and better for their family has been very powerful for me.”

It has been his privilege, he said, “to witness on a daily basis the dedication, innovation, and caring nature of our students, faculty, and staff.”

For those around Hartness, it has been our privilege to witness on a daily basis his dedication, his innovation, and his caring not just for his students, faculty, and staff, but for the communities he serves, our state, and the world we all call home.

His hope for a better future is our own.

Reflections on Hartness’ leadership from across the state

“It is immediately evident when you meet Dr. Hartness that he is drawn to education as a means to help those that need it most. As a result, he has built a culture at Davidson-Davie that is radically centered on students of all backgrounds, particularly adults who are trying to build a better future for their families. This focus on the full spectrum of learners- from those just graduating high school to a veteran transitioning out of the military- has always made clear to me that Darrin leads from the heart.”

Mike Krause, senior advisor at the John M. Belk Endowment

I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Darrin Hartness when he served as superintendent of the Davie County Schools. He was amember of the NC School Superintendents’ Association Executive Board for a number of years.  He chaired the Accountability and Testing Reform committee for the executive board.  He is very passionate about serving students and providing a high quality education for all students. He is a true servant leader and a great human being.  It is a pleasure to see what he is accomplishing as president of Davidson-Davie Community College. 

Jack Hoke, executive director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association

We first met Darrin on a campus tour of Davidson-Davie Community College. Our visit was interrupted by a series of tornado warnings that required us to take shelter. I’ll never forget how unshakeable Darrin was as he led us through a conversation about the important work of the college while sirens blared through campus. It was just one example of the courageous leadership style that he has brought to Davidson and Davie counties as president of their community college — and as a Superintendent before this current role. … We’ve had the opportunity to see Darrin’s leadership play out as his college is now part of NC Reconnect initiative. Darrin and his team have built a culture that is student-centered and focused on better engaging and supporting Adult Leaners. We are excited to see what the future holds for the college and the community it serves.

MC Belk Pilon,  president and board chair of the John M. Belk Endowment

“I couldn’t have been prouder to be a reference for Darrin when he was being consider for the role of president at Davidson-Davie Community College.  Darrin has always been one of the smartest, most student-centered leaders in the room, though he is way too humble to think of himself that way.  But other educators and students who are around him very long sure see him that way.  And he’s as good a father, a husband and a man as he is a leader. I’m honored to count him as a friend.”

Dr. Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College

I first worked with Dr. Darrin Hartness when he was superintendent of Davie County Schools and I was serving as the VP for Academic Affairs at then Davidson County Community College, then later had the pleasure of serving with him as he became president of Davidson-Davie Community College.  The first thing that I noticed when getting to know Darrin was that he had a keen interest in people.  He wanted to go beneath the surface and really get to know the whole person; he asked about things that were important to others and really listened to understand who each person was and where each person was coming from. … Relationships are at the heart of Darrin’s work and he demonstrated over and over again the importance of truly connecting with others.  If I had to choose one word to exemplify Darrin and his service throughout his career, it would be “caring.”  His genuine care for others and his commitment to putting others at the center of his life’s work are admirable.  I feel fortunate to know Darrin as a leader and a friend.

Dr. Margaret Annunziata, president of Isothermal Community College

Darrin is an amazing, innovative leader who is doing great work to elevate Davidson and Davie counties and the entire North Carolina Community College System. Every conversation with Darrin begins with the same focus…What is in the best interest of students? He is student-centered and community-minded in his leadership approach. Darrin has also emerged as a statewide leader by serving as an officer in the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents. He is certainly well-respected by his peers and viewed as one of the best leaders in our system. In addition to being a great leader, Darrin is an even better person. I am honored to call him my friend and colleague.

Dr. Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.