Before Kirby Rients began teaching his students to communicate, the Minnesota native got his own start early, working at a radio station at the age of 15. “It was the middle of nowhere. I think you might have lost our signal when you left the parking lot,” he jokes. But its very smallness gave a young Kirby a hands-on chance to get involved in many aspects of radio, and he was hooked.
Kirby grew within the industry through college, moving from the station in the sticks to the much larger Twin Cities market. He had his own morning show and worked as a music director. His last job in radio was programming director at CBS radio. Even as Kirby made strides in the industry he loved, he knew it was a career that would not provide the stability in hours and pay that he wanted to bring to a future family. “I always said, When I find the woman I want to marry, I’m going to have to quit.”
He found that girl, but at a most unexpected crossroads. Kirby was diagnosed in 2001 with Hodgkin’s disease, and the ensuing cancer treatments left him drained and housebound. Shannon was the friend who kept him company and raised his spirits during those lonely hours. After his treatments concluded, they realized theyneeded to take their friendship to a higher level. Today, Kirby and Shannon are married with three children. His family, says Kirby, is “the greatest gift I’ve ever had.”
Kirby completed a Master’s of Education in 2003 from the University of Phoenix and began teaching language arts at a Phoenix charter school. All the communication components of language arts: speech, writing, sharing stories and understanding literature, were a natural fit for Kirby, who uses the charming irreverence of his radio days to bring it all to life for his students.
Kirby has both public and charter school experience, and is a firm proponent of the latter. “We are not properly preparing our children for college. Too many kids are falling through the cracks in public schools.” He believes the smaller class sizes afforded in charter schools make the difference. “We as teachers can differentiate the needs of each student, but still put them all together and help them succeed.”
Kirby worked under Dr. Chris Pellant, Marco Island Academy principal, back in Minnesota. Their good working relationship and Kirby’s respect for Dr. Pellant as an administrator piqued his interest in looking into the Academy. He’s anticipating the excitement of helping to grow a charter school. At heart, he says, he’s “a nerd.” “I love the stories [of literature] and I love that I’m able to share them.”