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Independent Voice

Making Middle School Matter

Nov 20, 2023 04:31PM ● By Debra Dingman, photo by Debra Dingman

John Knight Middle School Principal Bob Bugalski poses with students inside the school office where they regularly drop in and visit staff.  

DIXON, CA (MPG) - Bob Bugalski, the 65-year-old who has spent 30 years in education and who has now settled into his role as principal at John Knight Middle School, is working a mission:

“We have to prepare them for high school,” said the tall blonde man. “If they haven’t done junior high /middle school well, they will not have a good time in high school. There are real consequences if they are not ready for high school.” He would know, as he’s worked the past 11 years at Dixon High School as assistant principal under Principal Stephanie Marquez. He has seen firsthand when students are, or are not, adequately prepared.

He was asked by Superintendent Brian Dolan to fill in when Kamilah O’Connor moved on and was determined to help the middle school students till the end of the year, but now he has been made permanent in the post.

“Dolan thought I’d be a good fit, and I was very fortunate to have relationships with the students -- due to siblings -- and they were happy to see me,” Bugalski said. “I have a booming voice and they know I’m here. I greet every single student every day.” He spoke of hearing often from students that middle school didn’t matter, that grades didn’t matter.

“My mantra is that we matter. Middle school matters. It’s the little things that make big things happen,” he said, speaking of students walking into class and immediately getting out their planner, taking notes, knowing how to function on their Chrome Books, and how to read and participate in discussion.

“It’s not complicated,” he said. “Students have to have those habits, and they have only two to three years before high school, or they’ll struggle.” He explained that middle school is “really hard” because students come from a nurturing environment (in elementary school), and in three years go to an academic and curriculum-driven environment.

Bugalski attributes this year of positive change to a “great” staff.

“They absolutely love the students,” he said. “We have no assistant principal here, and the office staff has been phenomenal. They have been very supportive and patient with me.” They aren’t the only ones who enjoy students. When Mr. Bugalski walked out of his office, several students were happily willing to pose with him.

“I’m happy he’s here. He’s a big presence on our school campus, and the students respond really well to him,” said Office Manager Vicki Schene, who has been at the middle school for eight years and in the Dixon District for 16. “He is bringing great leadership, and it was a very smooth transition.”  

Now that he knows all the middle school students and staff, Bugalski is working to build 6th grade athletics and cited that the PTO needs help with fundraising because they need uniforms, for example.

“We’re trying to increase participation in cross country, volleyball, track and field, (and) basketball, and we want to add flag football,” he said.

Bugalski is married and has one son.

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