By JIM HOLTZ – Grand Forks Gazette
After a 38-year career in education, School District 51 Superintendent Michael Strukoff is retiring.
Born and raised in Grand Forks, Strukoff’s relationship with Grand Forks schools has been both long and varied.
“When I started school, I was essentially an ESL (English as a Second Language) student. We spoke primarily Russian at home. As a non-English speaking kid, you got streamed right away.” He added with a slight smile, “The expectations the system had of me were not high.” Fortunately, he had several teachers in Grand Forks who were determined to help him excel. By the time he graduated from Grand Forks Secondary School (GFSS), Strukoff was not only a successful student, but a member of the provincial champion GFSS basketball team. The influence of special teachers reverberates in him today, particularly the influence of Fred Walker, after whom the Fred Walker Development Centre is named. “Fred has been very dear to my heart and at the Walker Development Centre, they still talk about the legacy of Fred Walker,” the SD51 superintendent explains. Walker and other concerned teachers provided Strukoff with the encouragement and determination that he needed and they modeled for him the behaviour and attitudes that good teachers must have. After beginning his own career as a teacher of math and science at Killarney Secondary School in 1975, he and his wife Marilyn decided to return to Grand Forks. He was offered a job teaching Grade 7at Hutton Elementary, as well as teaching Russian language classes and did that for five years until becoming the vice-principal at GFSS in 1980. He was promoted to principal of Hutton in 1987, where he worked for 18 years before becoming superintendent in 2005. Strukoff also worked from 2003 to 2005 as district principal and operations manager. During this time he oversaw the Phoenix program of distributed learning and the construction of Big White Community School. As a retiring superintendent, Strukoff shows through his comments on the district’s successes the same concern Fred Walker showed him. “We live in what is considered a depressed area economically,” he said. “And so we are supposed to be underperforming and I think we have challenged that kind of trend. Certainly, our achievement levels could be higher but we are very proud of the fact that we are keeping kids in school. By graduating, they get that leg up that, without graduation, you don’t have. Ands we’re very proud of the last few sets of statistics that show we have had a 92 to 94 per cent graduation rate. I attribute that to the close relationship we have with the Boundary Family Individual Services, Public Health, Children and Family. We meet regularly to try and work together because it is those vulnerable kids that, if you can keep them in school and give them the opportunity to graduate, then have options as they go forward in their lives.” Strukoff is somewhat concerned about the future of public education, “The B.C. government has announced the BC Education Plan and the concept of personalized learning. There is huge potential, but we saw how the Royal Commission (on education, 1988) proposals fizzled. So I am worried, because we don’t even have a foundation built yet. Is there going to be the will, the energy in the system to actually make the change that is required for education in the 21st Century? “Though he will always be interested in education, Strukoff’s immediate plans after retiring at the end of the month include pursuing his volunteer work as a Grand Forks Credit Union director, doing some home renovations and taking in the Boundary-Kootenay countryside from astride his sleek, blue Yamaha V-twin.