With more than two decades of experience in education, Bruce Richards is looking forward to his next challenge — serving as the new principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Waconia.
“I’m very excited to come and help to continue to build tvhe school and focus on all the things that need to be focused on,” said Richards, who officially starts at St. Joe’s on July 1. “I am excited to work with the Waconia community. I have been very impressed with the community as a whole. It is very child-centered. People seem to have a passion for education down here and know the value of a strong education.”
After graduating from a Catholic high school, Richards pursued an engineering degree. After working as a school bus driver, however, Richards realized he loved working with children.
“I thought, where can I use science background, my math background, and my love of working with kids and elementary education was the most obvious answer where I could do all of those,” he explained.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Moorhead State, Richards earned a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the UM-Twin Cities. He has since completed post-master’s program at St. Thomas to add the title of Education Specialist in Administration to his resume.
Ironically enough, Richards’ career started at St. Joe’s, albeit at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Moorhead. He spent two years there, teaching second grade and sixth grade math one year and fourth grade the next.
For the next 16 years, Richards taught in the Osseo School District, teaching mostly elementary level math while also working with his speciality in professional development in mathematics.
The following three years were also spent in Osseo but this time, Richards served as a QComp instructional coach, working with 65 teachers a year to provide one-on-one teacher feedback and ways to improve instructional practices. During this time, Richards also was an Adjunct Faculty member at Hamline University, assisting preK-12 teachers earn Masters degrees.
For the 2012-13 school year, Richards served as Assistant Principal at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. His position was created through a one-year federal Title I School Improvement Grant (SIG), which provides funding and support to the state’s identified Persistently Lowest Achieving schools in order to rapidly and dramatically increase student achievement. At Kennedy, Richards focused on student assessments and staff development, helped create a professional learning community (PLC), and performed other duties.
The school has improved and officials there have been told that their work is a model for other districts.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done out there to turn that school around,” Richards said.
With his one-year stint in Willmar complete, Richards started looking for the next stop in his career.
As it turns out, Richards and his family are members of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Brooklyn Park / Osseo, which is the former parish of Fr. Bennet Tran, who is the current pastor at St. Joe’s in Waconia. Tran had told St. Vincent’s Fr. Jack Long about the principal opening in Waconia and Long told Richards about it.
One thing led to another and Richards sent his resume to the search committee at St. Joe’s. During this time, Richards’ brother, who is a priest, suggested he say a novena, which is a traditional Catholic method of prayer that can be recited for nine consecutive days, to ask for help in landing the position. In an interesting note, Richards would learn on the ninth day of the novena that he got the position in Waconia.
“The funny thing is, this novena prayer was to St. Joseph, and here we are,” Richards added. “It all coming together like that was very meaningful to me. I’m a very faith-filled person.”
Tran noted that Richards was one of more than 30 applicants for the principal position, which was vacated earlier this spring by Jeff Lenzmeier, who Tran said left the position after three years to pursue other opportunities.
“Our search committee did a wonderful job,” said Tran, who offered special thanks to Bill Miller, who served as chairman of the committee. “We’re very excited to have Bruce join our community here. He comes with over 20 years of experience in education. We believe he will make our good school a superior school.”
Richards is excited about the opportunity to be the principal at St. Joe’s.
“I feel like I have a really unique blend of public school and Catholic school experience,” he said, adding that he doesn’t feel he has worked a day in his life. “I’ve always loved teaching, working with kids. That ‘a-ha’ moment when I figured my career out has been a blessing.”
Richards said he is driven by the vision statement Take A Closer STEP (Student centered, Testing & assessing for learning, Equitable opportunities for all kids and families, Persevere) Towards Excellence Every Day. He said it was inspired by a song he wrote for one of his daughters based on the Footprints poem.
Richards and his wife, Pam, who is also an educator, have been married for 20 years and live in Rogers.
The couple has three children, Wendy and Natalie, who will attend Maple Grove Senior High School next year, and Benjamin, who will be an eighth grader at Osseo Junior High next year. For the time being, Richards plans to commute to Waconia.
“My goal is to be (in Waconia) as much as I can,” he said, noting his commute will actually improve. “At 35 miles, it’s only a third of the 100-mile one-way commute I was making to Willmar, so this will be nothing.”
In his spare time, Richards enjoys volunteering, leading a pack of Cub Scouts, and serving as a youth baseball and football coach. He has served in the music ministry at St. Vincent’s for 27 years. He has enjoys spending time with his family, which he describes as a camping family.
“We purchased a motor home in 2004 with the goal to hit the lower 48 states by the time the oldest graduates from high school,” he said. “We’ve been to 37 states so far … we might have to alter the goal. We’re hoping to go to the southwest this summer and hit off another 10 or so. We’re going to be really close.”
To learn more about St. Joe’s, visit www.stjosephwaconia.org.
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]