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RANGELY I New Parkview Elementary School principal Mike Kruger has Rangely in his veins.
The three-time resident first came to Rangely with wife Susie in 1984, when daughters Elizabeth and Jessica were 4 and 1. Kruger and his family moved from Michigan for him to teach English and coach baseball and basketball at Rangely High School.
“To be honest, our first impression of Rangely was not a positive one,” Kruger said. “We were coming from a suburban area of Detroit that had a lot of conveniences and amenities. But that impression changed very quickly because of the people here. Everyone was so friendly and willing to accept new families to the community.”
Six years later, Kruger had decided to attend seminary, which meant leaving the town that had become home. He ended up pursuing a master’s degree instead that turned into two diplomas, one in school administration and the other in religious education.
When a position opened up in 1995 to teach again at Rangely High School, Kruger applied for and was offered the job. He brought the higher education degrees and five years of experience as a middle school principal with him.
“Coming back was great,” Kruger said. “We were very excited to be here. We were returning to a Rangely that we knew about this time.”
Kruger taught English at the high school for five years, coordinating student trips to England like those he’d organized for a previous generation of students in the ‘80s. In 1996, he also began pastoring Grace Baptist Church.
Then in 2000, after Principal Marty Bassett took a job in Grand Junction late in the summer, Kruger accepted Superintendent Robert Mullen’s request to take over the position. Daughters Elizabeth and Jessica were graduated in 1998 and 2001 from the same district they’d begun their education in more than a decade earlier.
But in 2002, family health issues prompted the Krugers’ second absence from Rangely. They returned to Michigan, where Kruger headed up the National Heritage Academy, a K-8 charter school, from 2002 to 2005. The family returned to Colorado in 2005, where Kruger became principal of Buena Vista High School. But the poor housing market in Michigan necessitated their return there in 2008, where Kruger resumed his position as the Academy’s principal from 2008 to 2011.
During their nine years away from Rangely, Kruger and Susie never forgot northwest Colorado.
“Susie has been a real trooper,” Kruger said. “She loves Rangely and said, ‘If we’re going to move one more time, it has to be back to Rangely.’ The longest friendships we’ve had are from here. It was like coming back to family.”
Now, after a year of teaching social studies at Rangely Junior/Senior High School, Kruger’s going back into administration. He replaces Parkview principal Bennie Bennett, who was in the position for a year.
“Mike Kruger is a skilled administrator with over 10 years of experience as a principal and even more experience as a teacher,” Superintendent Todd Cordrey said. “Mike loves our community and believes in his students, parents and teachers. His children attended school in Rangely; therefore, he knows and appreciates the value of a Rangely education.”
“I love the classroom and I love teaching in the classroom, but I think I do have an ability for instructional leadership,” Kruger said. “Having a successful career as a classroom instructor gives me a level of credibility and expertise with the teachers I’ll be supervising.”
A main goal for Kruger is to partner closely with parent and guardian volunteers and collaborate with the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), which has undergone reorganization in the last year.
“It’s a good time to do those things right now, to bring that back into focus,” Kruger said. “Having worked with a charter school, I’ve seen how they bring strong parental partnership into the organization. It was always like that in Rangely…(as parents,) we always felt really welcome to come into the schools and to volunteer. I want to make sure parents feel that way now.”
Kruger plans to create a space in the school for parents called the Panther Den, coordinate family events throughout the school year, and offer a “Principal’s Coffee Hour,” similar to a fireside chat, during the school day.
Figuring out how to best address challenges the public school system faces, like student assessment and budget shortfalls, is an ongoing process, Kruger said.
“As far as the TCAP, what you’ll see in Rangely is what you’ll see in most small rural districts,” Kruger said. “You’ll have fluctuations in performance, some good years, and some rougher ones. That’s because we have a small number of students in our district, which means it doesn’t take much for scores to fluctuate. Also, because we’re a fossil fuel economy, we have kids coming and going, so it’s really hard to maintain a cohort to see how kids are really doing.
“The best thing we do is the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing we’ve been doing for several years now. Students are tested in fall, winter, and spring, and we can really check their academic growth. Not just proficiency, but growth. And if there are areas they aren’t growing, we can do something about that. I think we’re on the cutting edge, which is instant computerized feedback.”
Kruger has also been encouraged by the district and community response to the economic downturn.
“In reality, our school is doing better than most financially,” Kruger said. “Fortunately, the Rangely school board and administrators had the foresight to build the new middle school (now Parkview Elementary), the new high school, and put some money away for a ‘rainy day’ before the funding disappeared.
“Another real positive was the community passing the mill levy so that the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District will partner with us to finance our athletic program. As a result, Rangely School District can now focus on academic needs. It shows that the community is really paying attention to and caring about education here.”
As Kruger looks ahead to new challenges, he will share the experience with Susie and his daughters as he has all along. Elizabeth is trained as a language arts teacher, and Jessica begins her second year as Colorado Northwestern Community College’s sociology and psychology instructor this fall.