COAL CITY HIGH School associate principal Susan Rutkowski will close out her career in education this month. During her tenure with the Unit #1 School District, Rutkowski has held multiple roles including assistant principal, associate principal and even principal. She’s also been the district’s transportation and cafeteria director.
Ann Gill Editor
Susan Rutkowski's job wasn't always easy, downright difficult at times, but if given the chance she'd do it all again.
As the associate principal at Coal City High School, Rutkowski was the building's chief disciplinarian and "when you do discipline you don't always make people happy," she said.
With every student that entered her office the motto was the same, be fair and be consistent.
"My philosophy has always been that you have to give students an opportunity to change their behavior," she said, so to see students turn their behavior around proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.
"I'd like to think that I played a part in that," she said.
From all indications she did play a part in many student success stories. She's had former students come into her office to apologize for their actions, she's had students come up to her in the hallways just to chat, she even had student approach her in the grocery store to offer their regret for the things they did years earlier.
"Susan's here for the kids and she's always done what is right for them," said high school principal Mitch Hamann.
Being on the front line wasn't necessarily easy, but she said the difficult tasks were made a bit easier by the support she received from parents, school staff, administration and the Board of Education.
Rutkowski remembers her first day at CCHS and wondering where all the students were. She came to Coal City from the Plainfield School District where she served in an administrative role at the district's alternative high school. At the time Plainfield had roughly 3,600 students in its high school and was running 39 buses every afternoon. So when she stepped into the halls of a building with less than 600 students it was a bit of a shock.
She quickly got use to her new surroundings, "it was a really good day," Rutkowski said.
One not so good day at work came shortly after 9-11. Unbeknownst to her a student walked into the west lobby of the school, picked up the receiver on the pay phone and told the operator of a planned bombing by Osama bin Laden.
"It was a sensitive time and one of the most overwhelming situations I had to deal with," she said, recalling the phone call she received from the local police chief after he'd been contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
It was her job to find out who placed the call. She did and it's certainly one event she'll never forget.
Despite the challenges of her job, it's one Rutkowski wouldn't hesitate to do all over again.
"This is a good town to work in. We have good teachers who care about the kids and a supportive community," she said.
Rutkowski started her career at her former high school, a Catholic school in the city of Chicago. At the time there were few teaching jobs available to college graduates, so when her former principal called to offer her a position she jumped at the chance. Her degree was in English, theater and speech. She also taught at Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights.
When the first of her two sons was born she took time off and during those 12 years she went back to school, earning a masters degree in administration. With her youngest son in grade school, she went back to work.
After a few years with the Plainfield School District, Rutkowski sought an administrative post and was appointed a dean of students. It was during that time she learned the assistant principal's post was opening in Coal City.
"I had been to workshops with presenters from Coal City and I was impressed with the technology they were using and their professionalism," she said. So Rutkowski applied, interviewed and took the job.
"It's been a nice place to work. I've developed relationships and lifelong friendships with the people in this community," she said.
During her 12 years with the district, Rutkowski has held multiple roles including assistant principal, associate principal and even principal, but that was a position that didn't really fit her, so she made the choice to step out of that role. She's also been the district's transportation and cafeteria director.
She remembers telling the superintendent that she'd taken a restaurant manager's training course offered by Marshall Fields. Shortly after that conversation she was overseeing the food service program.
"I learned a lot, it was certainly on the job training, but the cafeteria staff was always extremely helpful," Rutkowski said.
One of the highlights of her cafeteria duties was the opening of the early childhood center kitchen.
"I loved going to the early childhood center at lunch time to work with the students, helping them open their milk and carrying the trays, it was a lot of fun," she said, noting it was the first time she'd worked with students outside of a high school setting.
Rutkowski makes it clear that her job was rewarding in many ways; be it positive changes in behavior, improved academics or success in extracurricular activities.
As Rutkowski prepares to leave CCHS at the end of the month she takes with her good memories and hopes that students, past and present, will remember her as a being fair and consistent and someone who had all the best hopes for their future.
So what does the future hold for her? Rutkowski said she plans on playing it by ear, but knows it will be an adjustment not getting up and going to work everyday.
Rutkowski and her husband, who also retired this year from his position as a school administrator, plan to do a little traveling, they might teach a few college level classes, she might even go to school for floral design.
"We like being spontaneous," she said.
One thing that's a given is the Rutkowski's will be taking in a few plays and musicals, they have season tickets to three different theater companies in the city.
"That's probably one thing not too many people know about me, I love the theater," she said.