Kent Career Tech Center Principal is Top Michigan Administrator

John Kraus Named CTE Administrator of the Year by Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals

John Kraus (left) and instructor Deb Riolo, along with his supervisor, Bill Smith, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services gather at an awards event for students

As principal at Kent Career Tech Center, John Kraus leads a more-than 100-member staff for more than 20 career-focused programs.

He also oversees the educations of some 2,400 students on the center’s campus and four satellite sites.

Here’s who John Kraus is not: He’s not the guy in a suit students ask one another if they recognize. He’s not a “my way or the highway” leader with teachers or with students. And he certainly isn’t the kind of principal who thinks students should be seen and not heard.

John Kraus
John Kraus

Here’s who John Kraus is: He spends a lot of time collaborating with area business owners and meeting with education administrators, but is not afraid to don a superhero costume at a staff event. He will summon the spirit of Brad Paisley and lip-synch a country-western song in front of an audience of hundreds, but he also gives students and teachers the confidence to use their own voices.

And above all, he’s the kind of leader who tells people that as long as you put students first, you can’t go wrong.

In the four years he has been at the helm of the Tech Center, the Akron, Ohio native has turned around morale among staff, created a leadership team for students and become known as an educator who is willing to partner with area businesses to meet the need for skilled employees.

None of those accomplishments surprise Andrea Haidle, Kent ISD Board of Education Secretary. Haidle was on the board when they approved his application for the principal’s job.

“I remember he included what he would do in his first 100 days,” Haidle recalled. “What impressed me were not only his ideas, but how he was all set to move forward from the get-go.”

He’s met his self-imposed 100-day challenge “and beyond, way beyond,” she said.

Thanks to a nomination from Haidle, Kraus has been named the 2015 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Administrator of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP). He was surprised with the award on Friday, May 8, by Colin Ripmaster, associate executive director of MASSP.

“John has done so much in his short tenure here,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Kevin Konarska. “He’s connected students and staff, and morale has never been higher. The whole atmosphere at the Tech Center has been transformed. He’sbrought in the business community and colleges, and is constantly seeking opportunities for students. His leadership is a real benefit for Kent ISD and the broader community.”

Kraus was selected for the award, given annually for more than a decade, because “it was clear to the selection committee that he is not only a visionary, but also someone who’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done,” said MASSP Executive Director Wendy Zdeb-Roper.

“John’s energy and positive spirit have earned him the overwhelming respect and trust of his staff, students, colleagues and the community; and in today’s educational landscape, this speaks volumes of both his character and ability,” she continued. “John is the epitome of what an effective leader should be and is very deserving of this honor.”

In the 16-page nomination packet for the award, Kraus’ staff repeatedly lauded him for energizing and motivating them, for insisting the word “fun” coexist with “excellence,” for empowering students by encouraging their input directly to him and their participation in leadership and recognition efforts, and for his ties to area businesses that help strengthen KCTC programs.

Kraus got his start in education in the Forest Hills Public Schools district in 1997. He also worked for Sparta Area Schools and Grandville Public Schools. He joined Kent ISD in 2011 after serving as principal at Comstock Park High School and North Kent Alternative High School.

His accomplishments while at the Tech Center include developing a way for students to fulfill increased math requirements in order to remain in tech center programs, and instituting a leadership team comprised of students who help drive school programs and policies.

“Mr. Kraus has made a lasting impact on my life, as a learner and a young professional,” wrote student Hasani Hayden in his recommendation for the award. “I believe he sets the gold standard for expectations and that every principal could benefit from observing his leadership techniques.”

Teachers, too, say they have benefitted from his leadership.

Instructional coach Laura Robinson said a classroom learning lab initiated under Kraus helps teachers work on their own skills by learning from and mentoring one another.

Robinson said the sense she and her colleagues get from Kraus “is ‘I want you to grow as far and as broad as you want to grow.'”

Kraus’ secretary, Kim Nyson, agreed. “When John says, ‘We’ve got this big thing we’re going to tackle,’ he doesn’t just throw it out there,” Nyson said. “He draws people in and before you know it, it’s up and running. He brings about change in such a positive manner that everyone jumps on board.”

William Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, called Kraus “the perfect selection as the state’s best CTE Administrator.

“He brings to his role experience as a successful traditional high school principal combined with the capacity to empower the talented staff around him,” Smith said. “He honors student voice, engages staff, builds strong authentic and relevant programs through his skills and connects program advisory boards to our classrooms and instructors. “Most importantly, he just wants everyone around him to be successful.”

An ongoing Be Nice campaign – with shirts worn by all the Tech Center staff – is one of the many initiatives under John’s leadership
An ongoing Be Nice campaign – with shirts worn by all the Tech Center staff – is one of the many initiatives under John’s leadership
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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