Helping students get wherever they want to go

Helping students get wherever they want to go

Dawn Krueger

At the end of each academic year, Dr. Dawn Krueger joins Heath Middle School’s educators in a joyful reading of a book written by a fellow (and much more famous) doctor.

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”

Those are the opening lines of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

But it’s the second verse that Principal Krueger connects with most as the staff reads aloud to Heath’s eighth-grade class before they leave their community and look toward high school.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself Any direction you choose.”

Krueger looks at the faces of those eighth-graders from Greeley, Colorado, and can’t help but imagine them scattered all over the country as future doctors, electricians, lawyers, and teachers. More important than their eventual careers, though, is Krueger’s belief that their journey will be filled with wonder and fulfillment.

Dawn Krueger

“We want our students to be able to go wherever they want to go in life,” Krueger said. “It connects with how we try to teach the whole student here. We want to give our students all of the skills and ability they’ll need to be problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and collaborators.

“Oh, the places they’ll go in their lives, and we want their time with us at Heath to play a part in helping them get there.”

Lessons learned from her son

Dawn Krueger admits she probably overuses sports analogies at work.

Each academic year is like a sports season to Heath Middle School’s principal. There is no finish line in her mind and the morning bell of each school day is like the opening whistle of a new game to play—and win.

“Sports was always about competition,” said Krueger, who played starring roles on various softball, basketball, and volleyball teams throughout her childhood. “I have that same competitive mindset as a principal and want our school to be the best it can be. But I had a teacher tell me once, ‘Sports don’t interest me and I can’t connect when that’s the only analogy you use.’ So I’ve had to evolve and talk about different analogies.”

Krueger smiles when recalling this mindset shift because it allows her to give credit to her son, Brady, 19. As her only child, Krueger couldn’t wait to watch Brady embark on his own athletic journey. But she quickly understood that his experiences were successful in ways that didn’t involve the final score.

Dawn Krueger and son Brady
Krueger with her son, Brady.

“For me, sports was about winning and for him, it was about being with the team and building relationships,” Krueger said. “He helped me realize the importance of taking the time to really get to know people.”

Krueger said her passion for educating the whole student has a lot to do with how Brady has been able to thrive as a teenager and find his place in the world. Her son formed strong bonds with others and turned his interest in working on cars into a promising job with a local auto company.

“Just being a good human being and having those interactions with coworkers, friends, and family can go a long way,” Krueger said. “I use the lessons I’ve learned from my son every day at Heath.”

"No One Fights Alone"

There is one sports metaphor that Dawn Krueger will never stop using.

“We are a true team and as a leader, I want everyone to feel like a big part of that team,” Krueger said. “Teamwork is so important to our success and we need to be good teammates and pick each other up. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, we’re all-in for you and will support you to make sure you get through it.”

Dawn Krueger

Dr. Peggy Franklin, a longtime special education and science teacher at Heath, has photo proof of that camaraderie on her desk. It’s an official staff picture of all of Heath’s teachers wearing matching shirts that read, “No One Fights Alone.” The shirts also display a cancer awareness ribbon.

The team surprised Franklin with the shirts to show their support during her recent battle with breast cancer. Franklin lost her hair and the ability to taste food, but was able to remain an impactful educator throughout her treatment because of the steady and compassionate support of Krueger.

“I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy,” Franklin said. “There were some really hard days, especially during radiation, but Dawn understood how to help me get through it. She understands the talents, gifts, and skills of every staff member here.”

One of Krueger’s favorite parts of the week is her staff’s “shout-outs” during team meetings where people share positive news. She’ll never forget the day when Franklin announced she was cancer-free.

“A big celebration,” Krueger said. “She’s such a strong woman and a fighter. We had some really honest conversations about her health throughout that time. She didn’t want to miss any days of work. But we told her, ‘You have to take care of you so you can be here for the kids in the future.’”

"We are all connected now"

With snow on the ground and Heath Middle School’s band playing music outdoors, Dawn Krueger took part in an official ribbon cutting ceremony in November to celebrate the end of nearly three years of renovations to the school.

The construction project meant more to Krueger than simply adding 12,000 square feet of new learning spaces to the school. Krueger, who took over as Heath’s principal in 2019 after being principal at nearby Prairie Heights Middle School, said the modernized building symbolizes her ongoing desire to construct new ways to best serve the whole student.

“Our scholars have changed, and the world has changed,” Krueger said. “So what do we need to do differently? Let’s roll up our sleeves and keep figuring that out.”

Dawn Krueger

The history-filled building, which opened in 1954, was upgraded with new classrooms, new administrative office spaces, and a new SmartLab, among other additions.

“It feels more contemporary but still honors our rich tradition,” Krueger said.

Tradition is important to Krueger and she loves hearing from alumni, including one former student from the 1950s who is helping her with an art project that will display highlights from the school’s previous seven decades. Krueger is equally passionate about the decades to come, and the positive impact that emphasizing the whole student can have on the future of education.

But she doesn’t focus on five-year plans or lofty long-term goals. With an athlete’s mindset, Krueger is focused on the next game to be played. And with a coach’s vision, she is eager to constantly work on strategies to make her team perform better than the day before.

“I’m in Year 26 and I have so much energy and passion that I don’t even know when I’d ever want to retire,” Krueger said. “I love coming to work. I love the people I work with. It’s really easy to be here every day.”

Krueger’s optimism about the future while also living in the moment is captured in the closing lines of the Dr. Seuss poem that Heath’s staff reads to their departing eighth-graders each year.

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”

Dr. Dawn Krueger is one of two recipients of the 2024 Gradient Learning School Leader of the Year Award. Learn more about the award.