Click photo to enlarge
Nate Drozd is a third-grade teacher at Soldier Hollow Charter School. He s an avid mountain biker and skier. Photo by Tyler Cobb/Park Record
Nate Drozd was excited to begin the new school year at Soldier Hollow Charter School last fall. But his enthusiasm soon turned to shock and heartbreak when scandal shook the school to its very foundation. The school's former principal was accused of sexually molesting students at schools where he had worked over a 30-year period. Soldier Hollow was the last.

Drozd, who teaches third grade at the school near Heber in Wasatch County, worried about the future and how the school would move forward. "It was tough, not knowing what was going to happen and how the administration would handle things," he says. He stewed for weeks during drive time to the school from his home in Prospector.

In the wake of the scandal, the school was run by an interim principal until a replacement was found. "He did a great job and all the teachers were united," he recounts.

The school ultimately hired Brenda Hedden, an experienced administrator with impressive credentials. "She's been wonderful and has really helped us all come together. Things are back to normal again and I was glad to get back to just teaching." He notes that the school lost only one student during the unfortunate interim while gaining four new students. He estimates the school's current enrollment at about 275.

Drozd came to his teaching post with impressive credentials of his own. Born in Southern California, he grew up in the mountain community of Lake Arrowhead, southeast of Los Angeles. His father was a high school ski coach and Drozd was skiing at age five. He was a downhill racer during all of his four years at Rim of the World High School in Arrowhead.

"I have great memories of traveling with my dad and the ski team to Mammoth Mountain to race for the state championship," he says.

Drozd also began his lifelong love affair with mountain biking while growing up in Arrowhead. "My brother and I would dive into the woods on our bikes and be out there for hours, exploring and honing our skills. I love to ride. It's all about freedom and being in the moment for me." He evolved into an avid bike racer, cutting his teeth on some of the early Norba National events at Snow Summit and Big Bear Lake in California.

Drozd attended Fort Lewis College in Colorado, where he finished his bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology in 2000. He chose the Colorado school in part for its location close to the towering Rocky Mountain range. "I've always had a love affair with big mountains and the cultures that have evolved there."

From there he backtracked to California long enough to earn teaching credentials at California State University San Marcos in elementary and special education. He went on to take a master's degree in education from Walden University.

Drozd plunged into his newly minted profession with an abundance of passion and energy. He taught seventh and eight grade special education at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in Gardnerville, Nev., just 10 miles from Lake Tahoe. But after five years it was time for a change.

"I was just burned out on special ed so I started looking around for something else," he explains. "My sister was already teaching at Soldier Hollow so, when a teaching job opened up there, I applied. It was an awesome opportunity to use my elementary education credential."

He got the job and moved to Park City with his longtime partner, Melissa, in 2009. She teaches English at Park City High School. Now into his fifth year at the school, Drozd may have found his calling.

"I love my job," he gushes. "The classes are small, which allows us to work closely with each student. I feel like I can really get through to them (he has 18 students this year). I'm an outdoor guy to the core and that's part of what I love about the school. We're in a unique location that allows us to get outside a lot. During the winter we're out skiing twice a week on the Soldier Hollow trails. I also put a lot of emphasis on environmental education with my students and the school is in a perfect place for that."

Drozd has great respect for Native American culture and teaches a unit on it as well. "Don't get me wrong," he's quick to add with a grin. "Science and art are also favorite subjects of mine."

Away from teaching, the payoff for Drozd has come from living and playing in another mountain town resort. "Park City has everything I love," he says. "I think there's a real connection between humans and mountains. I'm interested in mountain cultures around the world, especially their spirituality and cosmology. I've been to the Alps in Europe and I want to go to the Himalayas and the Andes."

True to form, he is outside most of the time when he's not working. He still races mountain bikes and cyclocross in the spring and summer and enjoys both Nordic and downhill skiing. He describes the Park City trail system as "fantastic." Always up for a new mountain adventure, he and Melissa skied at Targhee and Jackson Hole last President's Day weekend.

"Mountain sports have been a huge part of my life and I hope that never changes."

Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at stevep2631@comcast.net

VITAL STATISTICS

Favorite activities: "Anything outdoors, like most other people here yawn."

Favorite foods: East Indian food.

Favorite authors: Ed Abbey, Lao Tzu, Eckhart Tolle.

Favorite music/performers: "Jam" bands; Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic.

Bucket list: Learn to paraglide; build a studio for pottery and sculpting.