Cari Moye pays it forward by helping her students succeed.
There are no slamming lockers. No study hall to oversee. No cafeteria fights to break up. No playground in sight for recess, no library to shush the kids going in. No students are sent to this principal's office for being in trouble.
Cari Moye is the principal for Texas Tech University's fully online kindergarten through 12th-grade school, TTU K-12. Although there are no students in the building, it doesn't change the hustle and bustle of meeting requirements and making sure TTU K-12 continues to be a leader in online learning. But it's not always quiet, and surely not always easy. For a school that is anything but ordinary, she is the perfect extraordinary leader.
“What drew me to education in the first place was just wanting to serve students and to be able to positively influence their lives,” she explained. “I've been here ever since.”
Moye sits at her desk, laser-focused on what matters most to her: her students' success and meeting them where they are. For her though, focusing can mean a hundred different things, from staff hiring to what courses to offer, finding the right technology supports, to easing complicated and challenging situations, to all of the seemingly mundane things principals do to keep their schools running smoothly.
For a fully online school, it also means making sure the students have all the same services and attention their traditional school counterparts have, including advising, bookstore resources, mental health resources, a continuum of support services for students with special needs, strong instructional support, customer service and so much more required by the state.
An educator of 18 years, Moye taught in the traditional classroom for five years before moving to school counseling for another two. She joined the staff of TTU K-12 as the lead counselor 11 years ago but quickly moved into administration where she could have a larger impact on more students.
One of the many reasons she stays is because she's a Red Raider at heart, having earned her bachelor's from Texas Tech, where she is now pursuing her doctoral degree.
“Texas Tech has made such an enormous impact on my life, I find it pure joy to be able to introduce families and students to the Texas Tech community years before they are ready to enter college,” Moye said. “My work is unique in that TTU K-12 serves students all around the world from a very young age.”
Moye knows her work with TTU K-12 has been able to bring attention to Texas Tech as a place that helps students whose lifestyles vary from the typical local K-12 student. She also is thankful that her work brings opportunities every day to inspire the lives of confident students as well as those who are struggling.
“Texas Tech is able to offer an education to movie stars, children of missionaries, prodigies, students struggling with physical or mental health and so many others who aren't like the average student,” she explained. “I feel very proud that my job allows me to bring such positive attention to Texas Tech. I also feel so fulfilled that each day I come to work I am helping alternative students access a very strong education that will prepare them for whatever path they choose in life.”
Moye is the first to acknowledge that neither she nor TTU K-12 would be as successful as they are without the full support of the university.
“The university has championed our program since its inception when the high school was approved by the Texas Legislature as a special district in 1993. The administration continues its support to make us successful, especially in this era of online learning,” Moye said. “From the very beginning, the root of our system and our belief has been to serve students in the very best way we can. The university wants to be sure we're set up to succeed and that is a huge investment in us, our students, and our program.”
“Texas Tech offers financial assistance and also allows us the flexibility to be able to take classes,” she said. “We always say ‘From Here, It's Possible™' in regard to our students, but the university backs that phrase for staff as well.”
Moye says there has been a lot of investment from the university in professional development for her staff as well.
“Not just for me, but other women in our division have had opportunities to attend women's leadership conferences, as well as other trainings for our various staff, making sure we're getting relevant professional development,” she said. “The university pays for those events so that we, in turn, can pay forward that investment to our own students, really bring back what we learned, and get those refreshers in why we do what we do, to remember our ‘why.'”
Braxton Allison, principal of instruction for TTU K-12, just started his fourth year working with Moye. He understands exactly what she means about the university supporting the school by applying “From Here, It's Possible™” to the kindergarteners through high school seniors.
“Just the fact that our school exists is one way of looking at it,” Allison said. “Not many universities have this kind of program to offer K-12 students. In fact, ours is the only complete kindergarten through 12th state-backed school in Texas. It says a lot that the university is willing to support this, bringing opportunities to students they otherwise may not have.”
Allison also witnesses how Moye pays it forward daily, advocating for and investing in their students.
“Her whole mindset is what is best for a student, what is the best for their learning, what is the best for them in this environment,” Allison explained. “She really steers all the decisions we make in any conversation we have; that's what it always goes back to. Ultimately, it's, ‘How do we make it right for the student?' We want to make sure we're providing the best services, while holding them accountable, but also helping them get the best education possible.”
One of those students is Wyatt Altman. His mother Kristian Altman is one of hundreds of parents in a Facebook support group, a TTU K-12 PTA of sorts. Wyatt is a third grader in Texas Tech Elementary School.
“Mrs. Moye has always gone above and beyond to make sure any and all questions that we may have had, have been answered,” Kristian said. “Even without having face-to- face contact with our principal, she makes you feel like your student matters. This will be our third year with TTU K-12, and we could not be more pleased with her as our principal. Sincerely, the whole staff has been 100 percent amazing.”
‘Amazing' is a descriptor TTU K-12 can claim honestly, with an award-winning principal and a campus-honored program. Just this year Moye earned two major awards from the Texas Tech community. She was awarded the Phenomenal Women of Texas Tech in April, one of just 14 on that list. In May, Moye earned the Top Techsan Award through the Texas Tech Alumni Association, given this year to only four outstanding staff members. Also, TTU K-12 was awarded the prestigious Campus Internationalization Award from the Office of International Affairs in 2022 and was runner-up in 2019. Those accolades help with the school's visibility and show the university is also behind the program and its leader.
“I was honored to get those two awards; they meant a lot to me because my team attended those ceremonies to support me,” Moye said, tearing up a little. “I wouldn't be anywhere without our team and the work they do day in and day out with our students. It's not always easy – there are bumps and hiccups along the way, but we do have a good team, and they were there for those special moments, which was awesome.”
Moye believes the awards have brought more visibility not only to her but to the program. TTU K-12 international partnerships offer concurrent high school diplomas to students in the partner schools, which means they earn two diplomas - one from their own school and one from Texas Tech High School, taking both sets of courses at the same time. Partner schools also can offer individual courses through TTU K-12 to supplement students' specific curriculum.
“The Campus Internationalization Award shows we work hard to develop new partnerships with schools in other countries and with our current global partners,” Moye said. “We even bring students to campus to get them more familiar with the university for possible continuation into college for American university paths of study.”
Allison was not surprised Moye won leadership awards from campus entities. He says she gives back so much to her staff as well as her students.
“Cari is a strong leader, and we all appreciate the way she's willing to dive down into the weeds with us on a daily basis,” he said. “She puts her foot out there and gets into the mud and never hesitates to jump in to deal with families and have hard conversations with people. But it's the way she has these conversations – she mostly works with escalations, so by the time situations come to her, they're pretty tense. She can navigate those better than anyone I know.”
Allison explained that Moye continues to pay it forward not only with her students and families, but with her colleagues as well.
“She's always willing to work with us when situations come up. She's always there to help you think through what's going on and help you reframe what you're looking at. Cari has a wealth of knowledge about our program and how it works within the bigger picture of the state and the nation, our accreditation, all of that.”
In any given situation, Allison says he fully trusts her, knows she will give him a good answer or suggestions and equip him to be able to make sometimes hard decisions moving forward, too.“Just in that regard I feel like I learn from her all the time. I feel like that would be the same for anyone else in this program. She helps us build our strengths,” Allison added.
Thinking about her own strengths, Moye circles back to her experience as a Red Raider, reflecting on another familiar phrase.
“I love that another key saying used in Texas Tech culture is ‘strive for honor' because I feel it so clearly represents how I try to live my life,” Moye said, a seriousness settling across her face. “I strive to do my best to ensure my work here at Texas Tech makes a very positive impact on people as well as programs and systems. I believe in the work I do; therefore, it is easy to devote such serious effort toward making a difference every single day.
“I love Texas Tech and I have devoted so much effort and energy here as a student and as an employee. I feel such honor to have attended this university and now to work within the system to help others. I try to use every day as an opportunity to influence the lives of the students I serve, the employees I work with and to nurture this program in a way that promotes a culture of learning, caring, support and improvement.”