New principal seeks student conversation


Jacob Sirna, who will be principal here next year, visits RBHS after school March 14. Photo by Allie Pigg

Bailey Stover

During a staff meeting March 11, Principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad showed a video to the faculty announcing Jacob Sirna, current principal of Marshall High School in Marshall, Mo., as RBHS’ new principal for the 2019-20 school year.
After six years as the principal of RBHS, Dr. Rukstad will assume the role of assistant superintendent for secondary education starting next school year.

Sirna has previously worked in the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) district at Oakland Junior High and Battle High School (BHS).

Acknowledging his prior administrative experience, Dr. Rukstad said the main challenge Sirna will face is understanding the life and culture of the school more so than acclimating to the new position. She said she will help educate him on when events such as Global Village happen and figuring out the master calendar.
“He has exhibited a healthy understanding, and I use the term loosely, preference for the culture here, for a person who has never worked here,” Dr. Rukstad said. “So that’s a good thing.”
The school’s reputation for excellence appealed to Sirna. He said RBHS has a high level of academic activity and athletic success, which he attributes to an “incredible mix of people and a wonderful culture.”
Sirna said he values the school’s “incredibly collaborative” dynamic where the opinions of faculty and administrators combine to improve education.
Dr. Rukstad said freedom with responsibility, a core cultural component of the school, stems from communication and respect throughout RBHS.
As the “last stop before adulthood,” she said RBHS prepares students for life through a successive progression of increasing freedoms, such as advisory to supervised Alternating Unassigned Time (AUT). Dr. Rukstad said such structures allow students the opportunity to make their own decisions.
Sirna said he plans to continue to uphold a tone of decency and respect toward students. For him, the concept of freedom with responsibility allows students to do their best without allowing age to influence how administrators handle situations.
“[Freedom with responsibility] goes along with trusting students to make decisions for themselves in their best interest and trusting that those are the right decisions for them,” Sirna said. “Now sometimes for safety purposes in school. . . there are things that you ultimately have to do that maybe they are blanket rules for everybody, but I think you avoid that at all costs, and you allow everybody to be themselves, and you allow them to be that free spirit and assume they’re going to be responsible with it.”
Sirna said he has no plans to change anything regarding AUT or the school’s open lunch policy; however, as important as preserving the sanctity of the school’s “very open” and “very free” culture is to him, students’ safety remains Sirna’s priority.
If the district is ever denied insurance because of these policies, then he and other administrators will have to “deal with that situation.”
“I don’t ever want to have to stand in front of a camera or speak to a reporter and say, ‘Well, we knew that we could do some things to make things a little more safe, and we didn’t do them,’” Sirna said. “I don’t ever want to do that.”
Sirna said transparency, honesty and effective communication are important when any major changes occur at a school, especially ones that could affect the school’s culture, such as the district’s hardening of RBHS. Next year, students will enter the building through the North entrance while faculty and staff will enter using the South entrance. He said people deserve to know why the school will undergo this change, and he imagines the press and social media will be part of communicating information.
“I think the number one thing is to find the truth and print it and make sure everyone’s accountable for [their actions],” Sirna said. “[Journalists should] find the things that matter to their publication and find the truth and give [their audience] what they need so they can make educated, informed decisions in their own lives.”
In the next five months, starting as soon as he can, Sirna plans to speak with students and every faculty member that is willing to meet with him. Sirna said he will ask every faculty members the same questions in an effort to educate himself on a teacher’s perspective of the school.
He also plans to meet with the Executive Council, a group of elected faculty members who advise the principal on general school improvement, along with the Central Office, Dr. Rukstad and the “entire administrative team.” To connect with students, Sirna hopes to attend RBHS functions and introduce himself to people.
“I think you need to know that everybody who goes to school at Rock Bridge High School sees themselves as Rock Bridge High School,” Sirna said. “Everyone needs to see themselves here. And it’s in pictures that are up; it’s in things that are honored, things that are recognized. Everybody here needs to feel valued, and everybody here needs to feel like ‘This is my home.’”