For Pine River-Backus Elementary School Principal Jackie Bruns, retirement at the end of this school year will be bittersweet.
On one hand, she will miss her students. On the other hand, she looks forward to having some time off.
“I’ve been looking forward to retirement,” Bruns said. “It’s not that I couldn’t stay and don’t want to stay. We’ve lost a lot of close people in our lives at young ages to cancer, to tragic deaths, and I just feel like it’s time for me to enjoy life a little bit. I’ll miss the kids first. The one thing about being a principal is, yeah, you tend to see a lot of the kids that are having challenges, but you also get the hugs every day and smiles.”
Bruns began her career at Backus High School. She was fresh out of four years of studying, first at Augsburg University, then Moorhead State University, and finally at Bemidji State University. She was hired just one week before the 1979-80 school year began.
“I have very fond memories of starting there. I had some wonderful colleagues that mentored me. Some of them I’m still in contact with,” Bruns said. “It was a great place to start your career. It was small and that had its challenges, but it was wonderful to develop relationships with kids.”
When Bruns began as a high school English teacher, discussions were already under way to merge Pine River and Backus schools. Bruns remembers what it was like when that finally started to happen.
“I do remember, as we went through that process it was gradual. We first sent part of the kids down. I think it ended up being ninth through 12th grades, and some of us taught the junior high up in Backus, and then we came down here halfway through the day to assist with high school,” Bruns said. “That was very challenging.”
Bruns said the merger was not very well received in Backus.
“It’s totally understandable because the school is kind of the hub of your community. I have the utmost respect for administration and school boards because they went through some really tough decisions, and I think in hindsight they did it the best way they could,” she said. “It was a slow transition, but it’s fun now to know that the kids who have started here in kindergarten really don’t know anything but PR-B.”
Bruns eventually went on to manage curriculum and assessments when the first graduation standards came out. In the beginning she taught part time, but eventually stopped teaching altogether. When the school building in Backus finally closed, Bruns was working on her administrative degree and former PR-B elementary principal Vic Rinke vacated his position.
“The position came open and I interviewed and ended up hired as an elementary principal even though my background is high school,” Bruns said. “As a principal, it was not anything I expected it to be. I think as a teacher you kind of assume that you know what a principal does on a daily basis, but most of it was not what I had expected. It has been probably the most rewarding of all the jobs I’ve had here.”
This was 2006. Bruns said the shift from teacher to principal had advantages and disadvantages.
“People that were my mentors, like Steve and Diane Norlin, all of a sudden became my employees and to be their supervisor was kind of intimidating in ways,” Bruns said. “It was hard to make the adjustment from being a colleague to being a so-called boss. You have to make sure you are credible and able to maintain a good relationship, but also to know what your role is and how it’s changed.
“I’ll miss the kids, but I’ll definitely miss the staff. We have quality teachers and quality employees all the way from the bus drivers to the cooks, to teachers, to administration. It’s been a pleasure to come to work every day. I have no regrets,” Bruns said.
Bruns wants to travel with family following retirement and to complete projects that have been put off for 30 years. She will not return to a classroom to substitute teach, but she might consult or teach online, though that decision could wait for a year or more.