Executive Director of Sustainability at DPS
Directed towards a career in open-heart surgery. Later she was influenced to make an impact in a different way. LeeAnn Kittle was on the way to serve the public in the healthcare sector, before realising the impact she could have on the health and wellbeing of the population through environmental action.
“Let's get to the core issue,” says Kittle. “We're making our planet sick, which is making us sick. How can I work on the planet and recognise that what we take from it is finite? We have to have the ability to recognise that. I find more often than not people just need to be educated and then they too want to have a more symbiotic relationship.”
“Realising how people's health was impacted by the environment in which they lived made me switch to the idea that I need to heal the planet. I really got involved in environmental volunteerism at that point. Then the more I learned about the science behind it—the biology, the chemistry, the physics, all of that—I just became more and more fascinated by all of it.”
Her motivation to support the planet continued as she willingly took on projects in the area of her university, and never faltered to get stuck in despite studying and working at the time.
“I worked full-time while going to school and during that time I had a professor who taught us about a rooftop garden,” says Kittle. “That did not happen. It was cut from the project. And so I started a sustainability group called the Student Environmental Movement at that time and along with many others, raised over a quarter million dollars to get that green roof done. And so that was kind of the start of sustainability for me.”
Kittle’s commitment and determination never faltered as she influenced things further. She created and held an energy specialist position at Cleveland State University. Inspired by the Student Environmental Movement, she formed a consultancy to support similar projects going on in Cleveland, Ohio. During this phase of her life, she recognised the need to follow a career in the educational system, therefore influencing Kittle to move to Colorado and work at Pikes Peak Community College (now State College). During that time she also worked through the night to obtain her Masters in Business Administration from the Colorado Technical University—gaining the financial knowledge to support wider sustainability projects.
Kittle was determined to make generational change and knew starting with our youth was imperative to that mission. She decided to take a position as the Operations Manager of Sustainability and Energy at the Douglas County School District, which she held until her maternity leave in Feb 2018. As Kittle returned to work, she ventured back into sustainability, which is how she found herself in the running for her position at Denver Public Schools—having joined as the Director of Sustainability and receiving the Executive Director position through her pursuit of impact. Unknowingly, Kittle would continue these sustainable pursuits, which resulted in her current position and influence on sustainability among generations during some of their formative years.
Student engagement to drive sustainability
An inspirational leader combining her love of nature with the education of the next generation, Kittle sits in a position that allows her to combine some of her core skills and values. As the Executive Director of Sustainability at Denver Public Schools (DPS) Kittle oversees the sustainability strategy of the organisation with more than 90,000 students across a network of more than 200 premises.
As she takes pride in her work to reduce the company’s climate impact, Kittle is surrounded by an overwhelming response from the students at DPS, which she claims arecommitted to reducing their impacts on the planet.
“They actually came to us and set the precedent. I do need to give a shout-out to the DPS leadership though, because the students have been speaking up about many different topics for many years, decades even, and our leadership says ‘we hear you. We’re listening’,” says Kittle. “Moreover, none of this would be made possible without my talented team of sustainability professionals who are the heroes behind it all. While setting the vision is important to create collective action, it is the action itself that matters the most.”
Having shown true advocacy during her time in education, she exchanged a number of conversations relating to potential sustainability projects and ensured that her peers brought them back into the conversation.
Kittle’s empathy and drive are what lead her environmental pursuits as a leader, resulting in a continuous sustainable legacy for DPS.
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