DALLAS — Darrick Bruns, Whitworth Elementary School’s new principal, wasn’t sure it would happen, but he came back to where his career began.
Returning to Dallas School District, and specifically to Whitworth, is like coming home for him.
“The welcome home is kind of the theme right now, coming back where I started. I came here as a baby-faced 24-year-old,” Bruns said. “I just got done playing football at Oregon State and had my teaching license and got hired at LaCreole.”
That was 13 years ago, and he held positions at three schools in his nine years in Dallas. He spent three years at LaCreole Middle School; one year as a fourth-grade teacher at Whitworth; two years at Morrison Campus Alternative School; and the final three as an intervention and behavior program manager at Whitworth.
“I supported everybody. I didn’t have my own classroom. It kinda felt like I was the dean of students or assistant principal in that role,” Bruns said. “That’s what pushed me to go into the admin program, was that role.”
Bruns left the district three years ago to become an assistant principal at Richmond Elementary School in Salem-Keizer, and then moved to Harrisburg Elementary School to serve as principal for two years. He said he didn’t have a reason to look for a new job, as he was busy setting up new programs in Harrisburg.
“This was about the only opportunity I would have left for, to be the leader here,” Bruns said. “That’s what I was waiting for. I wasn’t sure it would happen again, but when it did, I couldn’t turn it down. I couldn’t say no.”
Bruns said the teaching staff at the school hasn’t changed much since he left — with only two new teachers — but the needs of students have changed dramatically. He’s grateful for the opportunities he had in other districts to learn to be a better leader before taking the Whitworth post.
“It was nice to get those experiences and training, to become a little more polished, a little more grown up,” he said.
Bruns said in the last five years, educators have had increased need for student behavior interventions. He said he’s always taken on the role of helping those students who are struggling.
The origin of his teaching career was in high school in McMinnville. His basketball coach asked him to help out with winter break and summer basketball camps. He was assigned to the players ages 5 through 7.
“When you are 6’3 as a 14-, 15-year-old kid, you turn into a jungle gym for kids,” he said, smiling.
His mother was a special education teacher, and he would visit her school. After high school, he enrolled at Oregon State University to study education.
“Everything just kinda felt right,” he said. “I was working with kids who struggled in a normal setting. I was always drawn to those students who had a little bit of behavior struggle. That was a consistent role I had.”
Bruns approaches children in that situation by attempting to build trust and a positive relationship.
“When you put money in the bank with kids, you create those relationships,” he said. “Then when you have to withdraw it or have those difficult conversations, where you hold somebody accountable, it’s a lot easier because you have created that relationship.”
His goal is to do the same with all students, staff and parents at Whitworth. He wants to observe how the school operates and listen to his staff about what is working well. Bruns said during the school day, he will be seen walking the halls and interacting with students.
Whitworth is home to his favorite age group, fourth- and fifth-graders.
“You can give them a little bit more responsibility, a little bit more autonomy. Their sense of humor is coming around,” he said. “The instruction itself and the content at that level is really fun. The kids are now so excited to learn the content when they find something that they really want to learn more about, they are now taking ownership of it. That’s amazing to see as kids get older, when they take ownership of what they want to learn.”
He said the first day of school, he will lead an all-school assembly to wrap up the day. That’s his way of beginning the relationship-building and making students feel as at home at Whitworth as he does.
Bruns said the three years he was away from Dallas were long. He’s grateful to be back.
“When I left, I think I might have said it once or twice, ‘I’ll never get to go back there,’” he said. “It’s tough. You are one of who-knows-how-many-people who apply for a job when it comes open. I’ve learned never say never.”