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Women in Leadership: Kristine Harrington offers story of perseverance, success and reinvention

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Kristine Harrington, SUSD communications and marketing director, delivered the keynote speeach during the May 2 Women in Leadership luncheon hosted by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale Women in Leadership series showcase dynamic local leaders
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Not everyone knows one’s calling in life but when the eureka moment hits the experience can leave a lasting memory helping to define one’s own legacy — past, present and future.

For Kristine Harrington, a powerful moment she witnessed of her mother, Diane Harrington, as a child during a challenging time would help prepare her for her own challenges and triumphs that would be ahead.

“She was in the midst of a divorce, having to sell our home, which had recently flooded in Des Moines, Iowa, having to give up her lifelong dream of teaching and having to reinvent herself as something else that would pay the bills,” Ms. Harrington told those in attendance at the Women in Leadership event held May 2 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas, 6333 N. Scottsdale Road.

“And in the midst of all this, she’s down on her hands and knee, literally on the floor, painting in the flooded basement when this old sink falls on her nose. I remember her bloody nose, and I remember her taking a deep breath, closer her eyes and simply saying, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’”

Ms. Harrington, communications and marketing director at the Scottsdale Unified School District, served as the keynote speaker at the latest installment of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership series.

Spearheaded by Stephanie Miller, director of programs and events at the local chamber of commerce, Women In Leadership strives to empower women to be strong business leaders whereas each fiscal quarter chamber leaders feature a woman who has made accomplishments in life — both business and personal.

Ms. Harrington, an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist, spoke to those in attendance about how she made the unexpected shift from broadcast journalism to communications director of a local school district.

The Women In Leadership series seeks to engage, foster, support, and advance female leaders who actively inspire other women as Ms. Harrington gave her own intimate account of how in her own way, she too found refuge during trying times in the Helen Reddy lyrics, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

A dream shaped by determination

Ms. Harrington recalled her family’s cross-county trek to southern California where she would eventually come to call home, graduate high school and attended the University of Southern California earning a degree in journalism.

“As women, we often start with a dream — a vision of what we want to achieve and who we want to become,” she said. “Whether it’s climbing the corporate ladder, starting your own business, volunteering to make a difference in our communities, our dreams inspire us to push beyond the boundaries of what others may perceive as possible.”

Ms. Harrington first came to realize her first life’s passion would become journalism — broadcast journalism to be exact — when she was in the third grade.

“I can pinpoint the exact second and where I was sitting, what the light looked like in the living room and who it was that was on TV and it came on the heels of the local weatherman coming to visit our elementary school talking about weather and talking about making the news,” she said of her inspiration to pursue what would become a 15-year career in broadcast journalism.

“It was an experience I had at school that translated into the recognition of my life’s ambition. This was the first experience in school that helped shape my dream. It’s funny to think of all the encounters, experiences and opportunities our [SUSD] students have and how it only takes one to help set a young person’s course — help them recognize the possible.”

From the moment of realization to execution, Ms. Harrington points out determination, at times, was a prerequisite for success at the school of journalism at USC.

“It’s the resilience that carries us through the long hours, the setbacks, and the moments of self-doubt,” she said. “Determination is what fuels our journey and propels us forward, even when the path ahead seems uncertain.”

It’s at this point in her presentation, Ms. Harrington takes a moment to point out a professor at USC that helped shaped her as a journalist, his name was George Ramos, a renowned print journalist.

From an excerpt on the report of his death in June 2011 from the Los Angeles Times:

George Ramos, a longtime reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times who played a key role in a groundbreaking series on Latinos in Southern California that won the paper a Pulitzer Prize in 1984, has died. He was 63.

From the pacific northwest to the Valley of the Sun

Following graduation, Ms. Harrington took her first reporting position at a local television station in Medford, Oregon — but Ms. Harrington know her stint in Oregon was a step on the path toward network television.

“Knowing that I had a two-year contract and my outs kicked in at 18 months,” she said pointing out her tapes were in the mail 12 months before her contract expired. “I was already looking for that next job. I’m climbing, I’m thinking my next market is Vegas baby!”

With the ultimate goal of an anchor position in a major media market or a network news position, Ms. Harrington points out she almost didn’t give herself credit for accomplishing her goal of becoming a respected journalist.

“I went on to report for more than a dozen years, covering red carpet events, fundraisers and big football games, record-setting wildland fires — all types of breaking news and, of course, multiple elections … even producing a feature length documentary, and a six-part true crime series. But the greatest honor I received was an email from George Ramos saying he saw me later in my career on TV reporting and he let me know that he couldn’t be prouder because he always knew I had it in me.”

Reinvention of a life’s pursuit

For Ms. Harrington it was covering a national news story that called her attention to the moments she may be missing as a mother.

“I did not plan to get married and subsequently divorced,” she said. “I did not plant to be a single mom. In fact, I really thought I had planned well enough to avoid all of that. But such is life.”

Ms. Harrington recalls the moment when her dream gave way to her duty to as a mother.

“One fateful day, I walked into the newsroom and was directed straight to the live truck for breaking news,” she said. “You all will recall the Yarnell 19 — the hotshot crew of wildland firefighters who died one summer — this is not a story to miss, this is not the time to say ‘no’ to a news director,” she said pointing out with no other options she had a relative fly into Phoenix to pick up her daughter from daycare to get the ‘big’ story.

“I called my ex-mother-in-law in St. Louis and booked her the next flight to Phoenix.”

Ms. Harrington’s mother-in-law made the flight and arrived at daycare just in time, but it was a wake-up call that still resonates today, she says.

“I had honed my skills as a trusted storyteller covering a lot of critical issues, politics, healthcare, crime and education and it was time for me, like my mom before me, to shift my focus to my daughter and my skills toward a new industry where I might provide value.”

Today, Ms. Harrington appears to be a professional comfortable in what she has accomplished in front and behind the camera.

“In SUSD, we say #BecauseKids and that’s because everything we do is because kids. Our why is because of kids. And it’s truly because of my kid that I’m here to be there for all kids,” she said.

“I get to lead crisis communications, strategic marketing and help develop best practices for school-home communications in SUSD. I get to connect with partners and volunteers who give so much of themselves to support our 21,000 students and 2,600 staff members and I get to support families reaching out with genuine questions and concerns.”

In a full-circle moment Ms. Harrington explains the journey she has been on is uniquely her own, but also shares a triumph of reinvention with her mother — a challenge that if her daughter faces she too will be able to overcome with grace.

“You know it’s funny now to think how my journey is quite similar to my mom’s and while I hope my daughter deviates a little from that journey and finds just the right partner in life to support her dreams, I am confident that her determination will serve her well, that the realization of her dream will come,” she said. “But should reinvention be necessary, I hope she recognizes that she comes from a long line of women who roar. Even if only in whisper to themselves, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’”

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