Friday, March 01, 2024

Krueger bids Ruder goodbye after 15 years

| February 7, 2024 2:00 AM

“I always say I kind of did a full circle, it just took me 35 years to make the circle,” Ruder Elementary School Principal Brenda Krueger said. Born in Kalispell and starting out school in Kila, Krueger would return to the Flathead years later to become a teacher and principal. And now, after 20 years of service to local schools, she will retire at the end of this school year. 

After completing her degree at the University of Montana in 1994, Krueger drew a line down the middle of the state. “I said I would teach anything in the west and I would not go east,” she said. 

That didn’t exactly go as planned, and Krueger found her first teaching job in an elementary classroom on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar, the northeast corner of the state. She spent seven years there before she decided to move back west, closer to her family. 

Krueger’s next trip was to Twin Falls, Idaho. She spent a year teaching elementary in Jerome and two at Magic Valley Christian School, her only middle school experience. 

“God bless middle school teachers, I couldn’t do it,” Krueger laughed. “Elementary’s always been my passion, and honestly working with students that are having some struggles… and just helping families the best that I can.”

During her time as a middle school teacher, Krueger began her administrative degree, which she finished in 2004. At that time, Canyon Elementary School in Hungry Horse was looking for a teacher-principal combo. 

“I got that job five days before school started, packed up in Idaho and drove up here…,” Krueger smiled. 

She enjoyed her time in the little school with about 130 students. One of her favorite working memories was the assemblies where parent Linc Cheetham would get bikes donated for every kid with perfect attendance. 

After five years at Canyon, she was transferred to Ruder Elementary School in Columbia Falls. When she arrived, the school was not meeting No Child Left Behind requirements. 

“Within two years, we got an award for improving our scores,” Krueger said. The Montana Office of Public Instruction gave them a little money to celebrate the achievement. Krueger was happy to have worked with a staff that has dedicated their lives to their students. 

“It’s a very cohesive school where everyone works for the betterment of children,” Krueger said. 

Another career highlight was Krueger’s work with the School Administrators of Montana for Montana Association of Elementary School Principals, where she worked her way up from Western Director, to Vice President, to President. As a past president, she served as Federal Coordinator Advocate. A shiny placard hangs on her office wall. 

“Kids always come in and go, “You were President?’ Yep, I was,” Krueger laughed. 

Krueger also saw the school through its renovation and construction, which started in 2020. She advocated for a sensory room for the kids and a window for herself — her old office did not have one. “I will miss this view,” Krueger said. 

Two beams in the school, one near the front entrance and one near the playground entrance, have the students’ names signed on the topside. 

“I always told the kids, ‘One day you can walk back in with your children and you can point up there and say, ‘My name is up there.’ And you were part of this,” Krueger said. 

Her favorite part of the job has been building relationships. The hugs are part of the reason she’s elementary. 

“Right now I have kids of kids. Just to watch them grow, become adults, become parents, to be able to come back and have those conversations and know them,” Krueger trailed off. 

The job has changed a lot over the years. Krueger explained that some of the clerical tasks for federal and state requirements can dig into time spent with the kids — at home and at school. Because of the economy and all the other happenings of recent years, times are tougher for everybody, including the kids.

“I want to leave while I still feel good about it, I don’t want to get burned out. I guess I just feel like it’s that time,” Krueger said. 

“I raised my kids through this school system, and it’s an amazing school system, all the way through. My grandkids are here now. It’s been a wonderful community to raise my family and raise my children. Columbia Falls has amazing teachers and and amazing schools, and [community members] don’t have to worry about their children’s future of education in Columbia Falls.”

As for her future, Krueger is unsure what is in store. “This is a new chapter and the pages are blank right now,” she said. She plans to travel, with more of a chance to visit her sons in North Dakota. She is also looking at other career paths, possibly as an education consultant, college financial aid advisor, supervisor of student teachers, or with CPS or OPI. 

“I guess I just hope that when kids look back in their lives that they will remember me as a caring principal that would support their needs and help them to grow and learn… just that person that they knew really cared about them,” Krueger said. 

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