The first principal at the new Alberni District Secondary School is bringing closure to one phase of his life and ushering in another.
Mike Ruttan is retiring at the end of this school year after six years as principal at Alberni District Secondary School.
The move brings an end to the three-decade teaching career for the man who a past grad valedictorian said “knows how to rock a moustache.”
Ruttan is the youngest of his two sisters and one brother, all of whom were born and raised in the Albenri Valley.
Known for his pragmatic wisdom, the married father of two said he hasn’t been the butt of jokes about being the baby of the family.
“They asked me a lot of questions when we were younger, so I was a bit of an old soul,” he said.
Ruttan attended Gill Elementary School, AW Neill Junior Secondary School and ADSS before graduating in 1969.
The principals of the day were men from the old school and stand out today for spurious reasons.
“They were dictatorial, intimidating, and not interested in listening to anyone, students in particular,” Ruttan said.
“They came from that marine core drill sergeant mold.”
Ruttan’s favourite subjects were geography and economics and he counts Winston Joseph among his favourite teachers. “He valued discussion and debate and he recognized that there were different types of intelligence and worked to draw it out.’
Ruttan wanted to be a doctor or lawyer after graduating because he liked working with people, and was interested in the process of healing, he said.
He attended UBC, where he took inter-disciplinary arts, a program he says was “intellectually all -consuming.”
After graduating, Ruttan still didn’t pursue teaching. Instead, he lived out his boyhood dream of working in the woods as a logger.
He loved working in the outdoors and was physically challenged every day. He also met co-worker Gerry Fitzgerald, whom he says made a difference in his life.
“He has a unique perspective on life, and was insatiably curious about everything and everyone around him,” Ruttan said.
His dream came to an end one day when a log rolled over top of him. He spent time in the hospital then subsequently underwent rehabilitation.
Ruttan thought about life and his future while recovering and changed careers.
He worked at a group home in Prince Rupert for a time before packing up and studying at SFU earning his teaching credentials.
Ruttan landed his first teaching job in Whitehorse, where he worked for four years. But in 1979, Ruttan took a principalship at a K-10 school in Bamfield.
He became a Grade 7 teacher at AW Neill. Then McMillan and Bloedel laid off 2,500 people in the Valley. The school district closed seven schools.
Ruttan switched gears, becoming the district First Nations tutor, working at the school board office. He was vice principal of EJ Dunn before moving to ADSS as a vice principal 10 years ago, then as principal six years ago.
There have been some changes in his years as an educator. Students map out their own futures now and work with staff rather than the other way around, Ruttan said. And technology use by students, socially and for learning, has grown in leaps and bounds.
“But the essential education, especially the relationships that are formed with students, remains the same,” he said. “If there’s no relationship then that student won’t open up to learn.”
The best advice Ruttan has ever received is “Live your life and deal with others the way you want to be dealt with yourself,” he said.
And his advice for whoever is selected to replace him? “Kids are the same as they’ve always been. They’re still adolescents who need questions answered, boundaries drawn, and someone to walk their path with them,” Ruttan said.