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New Phoenix High principal likes smaller schools

PHOENIX — Phoenix High School’s incoming principal prefers to work in a small-school environment.

Don Rugraff was principal at a 300-student high school in Brentwood, Mo., from 2008 to 2013. He also has been an assistant principal at a 900-student high school in Clayton, Mo., and he held a similar position at a 1,200-student high school in St. Charles, Mo. Phoenix High has 700 students.

“My preference is for the smaller schools since I feel as if you have a stronger impact and more influence in those situations,” said Rugraff. “You can build better relationships in smaller communities. It seems like a really nice fit for me.”

Rugraff replaces Jani Hale, who will retire after 13 years as principal. Rugraff's employment will begin July 25. His annual salary will be $104,262.

“The things we heard about him, he was great communicator and had a wonderful ability to connect with kids,” said Phoenix-Talent School Board Chairman Craig Prewitt. “He seems to have a sincere interest in learning every student’s name and has a great level of mature experience that he brings to the table.”

Phoenix High was awarded a silver medal this year by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked it 2,527 out of 19,908 high schools evaluated nationwide.

“The school was strong and had a great leader. The central office administration was also very clear on what direction the district is going and what they want to be five years from now,” said Rugraff. “One of the things that stood out to me is that it is all about kids. It’s a kid check. When you make decisions, is it in the best interest of the kids? ”

Most recently Rugraff was assistant director of the Regional Professional Development Center in St. Louis, Mo., a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education program. Rugraff worked on evaluation of programs and practices, staff development, human resources, data management and other administrative duties.

Rugraff was director of student services for the Clayton School District from 2004 to 2008 after four years as assistant principal at Clayton High. He was with St. Charles High School from 1998 to 2000.

The new principal has a doctorate in education from St. Louis University and a master’s degree from Southeast Missouri State University. He started teaching industrial technology and engineering in 1984 before entering administration. He’s also been a high school football and wrestling coach and was a scout for the Oakland Raiders from 2001 to 2011.

Rugraff moved last year to Eugene, where he continued his work for the development center. His son is a football player at the University of Oregon, and his daughter has moved to the state to continue her nursing education. He and his wife are looking for a home in southern Jackson County.

In mid-June, Rugraff will meet with Hale and school staff members.

“Anything she can share will be beneficial,” said Rugraff. “I also want to hear from staff — what is going well and what are the challenges they are facing.”

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Don Rugraff