What’s it like to be an AF principal? How did our AF principals get their start? We find out all of that and more when we sit down with AF Summit Middle founding principal Ben Cruse, who will also be the first principal of the larger AF Hartford Summit Middle this fall.
Where did you grow up, and why did you go into education?
I grew up here in Hartford. When I was in college, I was looking for ways to give back, so I applied to the Peace Corps and Teach For America. I had the opportunity to go to South America, and I started a school in Paraguay (that’s also where I met my wife). I wanted to start a school for kids who came from pretty underprivileged backgrounds and who had academic talents. Our big thing was, “We are going to help you get a great education so you can come back and help the community.” One day one of my students asked me, in front of a group, “Why aren’t you helping your community?” I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. So I wanted to come back and start a school of my own in Hartford.
(By the way, the kid who asked me that question is now the vice principal of the school I started in Paraguay).
What roles did you have at AF before you became principal?
When I started at AF, I was first hired as a paraprofessional at AF Hartford Middle. Not long after, there was a vacancy, and I was promoted to dean of students. I also taught seventh grade history and was a principal-in-residence. I then became the founding principal of AF Summit Middle in Hartford.
Why AF? Why have you stayed all these years?
I think AF offered me the best possibility to make a significant impact on the city that I grew up in and love. I don’t think I could have the impact on kids and adults that I have in any other sector or school type. I think AF truly cares about results for kids, above all else. That’s a big part of why I was able to rise from a paraprofessional to a principal. I feel like AF puts kids first in a way that I can’t find anywhere else.
How did AF develop you as a leader so you could be an effective principal?
I don’t think anyone is truly prepared to be a principal until you do the job, but when you get coached by a good principal that helps! AF’s Jeff House was able to mentor, coach, and guide me. I also think the principal-in-residence program gives you a good opportunity to develop your own vision on what a strong principal looks like. It gives you a balance of having consistent core practices, so you’re not starting from scratch, and also really letting you be yourself and make your school a reflection of what you believe and what you value.
What do you love most about working here/being a principal?
I am not the most emotional person, but the moments when I start to tear up are the moments when an adult or a kid gets it for the first time. You know when it clicks, and you know you’ve been a part of that process? It always chokes me up.
And one bonus question… what’s one fun fact many people might not know about you?
My son and I are, together, obsessed with drawing Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s 7, and he loves Sonic the Hedgehog. So we have hundreds of pictures that we’ve drawn collaboratively.
That’s amazing! Thanks for sharing, Ben!