By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
Last Thursday and Friday, May 28 and 29, passersby on Spring Grove’s Main Street might have seen an odd sight: a principal on the roof of the school.
It’s not every day a K-12 principal will hang out on the school roof for an hour, but Nancy Gulbranson enjoyed an aerial view of Spring Grove and waving to people passing by, amid honks and hollers from those wishing her a happy retirement.
The Spring Grove High School K-12 principal has enjoyed her position for the last 24 years, and her education career for a total of 36 years. Her career closes with a wave from the rooftop as part of a Student Council challenge: collect student-submitted photos of their biggest support during distance learning and the principal will spend an hour on the roof.
She is looking forward to retirement, but not counting the days to June 30.
“I love what I do. I am choosing to leave now because I love my job,” she told the Argus while atop the school roof. “I want to volunteer and do things the school participates in, like help in the kitchen for National Honor Society, passing out lunch trays for Academic Excellence, seat people at graduation. Behind the scenes.”
Gulbranson is also looking forward to projects that she’s put on the shelf for 36 years, which includes enjoying time on her family’s 200-acre farm.
“I poured 110% into teaching, things got put on the shelf. I have a garden to do,” she added.
Gulbranson started her career in 1983 in Wright, Wyoming where she was the first home economics teacher in a brand new school. When she looked out the window, a heard of buffalo could be seen. Though she started out with empty cabinets in the classroom, she built the home ec program (sometimes referred to as family consumer science) from the ground up.
She completed her masters work for principalship in Laramie, Wyoming, and then moved back to Spring Grove with her husband and kids in 1996.
As principal, her favorite part was watching the learning take place.
“Being able to go into any classroom and sit down amongst the kids and watch the learning,” she said. “I would walk into the middle of a lesson, band room, choir room. The teachers didn’t always see me, and they were surprised to find me in their room.”
It was a behind the scenes look that few people see, and to Gulbranson, it was the best job on the planet because she got to watch kids learn and do what she loved to do.
The biggest change Gulbranson saw during her 24-year tenure at Spring Grove was the forward momentum of student voice and choice, she said.
Spring Grove has taken huge steps in the last few years of promoting student ownership of learning, which often allows flexibility in student’s schedules and showing what they learned through project-based learning. So far, the students have responded well, as they get a voice in creating the project and show their passion, Gulbranson explained.
The COVID-19 pandemic “cranked it up 10 more cranks,” but Gulbranson said her teachers were fantastic.
“Teachers were able to create Google meetings to have that classroom feel and able to have individual Google conferences with parents,” she said.
The other value brought to light during distance learning was the relationship between parents and teachers, which is “stronger than it’s ever been.” It allowed parents to be hands on in their students’ learning.
“The combination of parents and teachers educating their kids was a powerful thing,” Gulbranson added.
Technology has also helped students take ownership of their learning, as they incorporate iPads, Chromebooks and Mac Air laptops into their day.
Any challenges presented to Gulbranson, she met with “doing the right thing,” whether it be helping a staff member grow or finding success with students. Both often weighed heavily on her mind, she said.
Gulbranson will hand off the principalship to Luke Kjelland, who will start for the 2020-21 school year.