They’re not little kids anymore, but they’re also not yet in the category of “precocious teens.”
As any parent can tell you, the lives of fifth- and sixth-graders might not be as simple as kindergartners, or as drama-filled as middle or high schoolers, but for Rome Corners Intermediate School principal Darci Jarstad-Krueger, the fit is just right.
A veteran of teaching 17 years in her native Janesville before coming to the Oregon School District in 2016 – elementary and middle school – Jarstad-Krueger was named principal at RCI this summer. She was previously an administrative intern at Brooklyn Elementary School and associate principal at Oregon Middle School, and was a co-principal for this year’s summer school session.
At RCI, the district’s school for all fifth and sixth graders, she succeeded Jason Zurawik, who switched back to his former role as OMS associate principal this fall to allow him to spend more time with his own children as they advance through the district.
In a district news release from this summer, OSD superintendent Brian Busler said her “extensive experience” working with students in the elementary and middle school levels “will allow her to best serve fifth- and sixth-grade children in our district.”
While some educators might strive to avoid certain grade levels because of challenging behaviors at those ages, Jarstad-Krueger said she thrives working with kids in the 10-12 age range, because they offer great “opportunity” as well as excitement for learning new things.
“They are really, really open to new ideas, and I think they still really genuinely like school,” she told the Observer last week. “As far a challenge, that would be universally true of any student in this age group, but (it’s more) a chance to shape and work to build really responsible, globally aware, equity minded students.
“This age group is so unique because it’s all about opportunity,” she added.
Jarstad-Krueger said what mainly attracted her to the district were its stated values, including a “whole child emphasis” and educational equity, which she said has been a driving force in her burgeoning administrative career.
“Specifically, that’s been a labor of love for me, and I’ve done a lot of work in educational equity and I’ve done a ton of my doctoral work centered around equity and restorative practices,” she said.
To that end, Jarstad-Krueger said she intends to work with staff on the whole child emphasis and “where kids are going to benefit the most.”
“That all kinds of feeds itself to building a staff culture and climate where collective efficacy can really be achieved and then choosing the path that are going to walk down together,” she said. “So we’re really being intentional about building and working off the teaching tolerance and equity standards to build really empowering experiences for students to start to kind of understand themselves in the global space.”
That means not only working with the 600-plus students at RCI, but dozens of staff members as well.
“I have this large staff to get to know and a large group of students to get to know, and it’s really important to build authentic and relationships with all of the people I work with,” she said. “Without building authentic relationships, we can’t take the next step to … move that student achievement needle forward.”
So far, though, things have been going very smoothly at the new-to-her school, which Jarstad-Krueger said is a credit to students, staff and parents.
“It’s been just a really great transition,” she said. “The students are gracious and the families and community have just been wonderful. It has never felt like a change, because the Oregon community is always so wonderful and welcoming to me.”
And while she said she didn’t have any “favorite” stories yet after just a few weeks in her new position, Jarstad-Krueger – a self-described “non-camping person” – said she’s been excited to have gone camping with a group of students recently, with plans to go again soon.
And when she’s not enjoying the great outdoors, you can usually find Jarstad-Krueger at a sporting event of one of her seven children, who range in age from a seventh grader in Janesville to a college student in Florida.
“Five of them are still playing sports at the college or high school level, so I’m never not at a sporting event on a weekend,” she said with a laugh. “I spend a lot of time at sporting events.”