MONROE – Jeff Kraftson didn’t set out to become a principal. In fact, he didn’t even set out to pursue a career in education.
Kraftson, now the new head principal at Parkwood Middle School, earned an undergraduate degree in communications with a minor in business. But after some work in the business and sales fields, Kraftson realized he’d chosen the wrong career path.
“For me, I just knew that there was something else,” Kraftson said. “I just felt that this isn’t for me.”
Kraftson was living in the Chicago area at the time and had the opportunity to take a job as a teacher assistant at a suburban high school. He worked in an exceptional children classroom.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I loved going to work every day. It just felt amazing.”
Kraftson began looking at schools that would accept him as a lateral entry educator. He eventually took a teaching job at Myers Park High School after moving to the Charlotte area. He taught special education in a self-contained classroom for six years, also doing some inclusion work where he’d visit a classroom and work with students.
But after a while, Kraftson realized something even greater was out there for the taking.
“I knew I had a desire to reach kids through leadership,” he said. “I felt like I had leadership gifts and wanted to use those to help reach kids by working with teachers and staff, as well.”
After earning a master’s in special education and a license in administration, Kraftson and his wife moved to Union County, where he took a job as an assistant principal at Piedmont Middle School. Kraftson spent two years at Piedmont Middle before accepting an assistant principal position at Porter Ridge Elementary School.
“That was great because it gave me the opportunity to get not only a high school, but a middle and elementary school perspective,” Kraftson said. “It helped me understand kids from the very beginning, that K-12 process, seeing how each (grade) level is so important.”
Kraftson spent the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years at Porter Ridge Elementary when the “right opportunity came up” – a job opening as head principal of Parkwood Middle School. Kraftson applied for the position and was appointed by Union County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis, also a former Parkwood Middle principal, earlier this year.
“That was exciting for me because not only is (Parkwood) a wonderful community to be in, but it’s also a community where she (Ellis) was principal,” Kraftson said.
Kraftson officially took office on June 17. During the past month, he’s spent time getting settled in and organized, and he’s trying to learn as much about the Parkwood community as he can before the start of the 2013-14 school year.
Leaving Porter Ridge was hard, Kraftson said, because of the relationships he developed with the students and faculty at the school. But he’s excited about forging new relationships with students and teachers at Parkwood.
“Whenever you go to any school, you build those relationships with students and staff and get to know them,” Kraftson said. “I absolutely will miss the students and families (at Porter Ridge) but I’m also thrilled to come here.”
Looking back on his years as an educator, Kraftson said the moments that always mean the most to him are when he sees his former students become successful. Whether it’s getting a job at the airport or graduating high school, seeing students work hard and overcome challenges makes it all worthwhile, he said.
“I’ve had more of an opportunity lately to see (former students) achieve that (success),” he said. “It’s so rewarding to see. When you’re investing in them, you might not see it right away, and they might not realize it, but our job is to be there for them and get them to their goal.”
That’s the type of approach Kraftson wants to take with the students of Parkwood, too.
“Things are working really well here, and that’s something I want to continue,” he said. “It’s in my heart to see these students reach their full potential.”