“Joe’s retiring? What?”
Tell anyone in the Promontory community that beloved school principal Joe Krajnyak is retiring and they’ll likely screw their face up in wonderment.
But he’s not old enough to retire, they’ll say.
The fresh-faced, speed-walking, speed-talking principal of Promontory elementary assures us he is, in fact, of retirement age. While he won’t share his age – that’s locked in a vault, he says – he recites a line he’s been using for years.
“I’m young enough to act like a kid, old enough to know when not too, and spirited enough not to care.”
And it’s that joie de vivre that has made every school Krajnyak’s headed a fun and energetic place to be.
His career has essentially been a playground.
“I’m lucky because I’ve never gone to work,” he says. “Every morning, I go to school.
“I’ve always been the biggest Grade 6 kid.”
Krajnyak started his career up north as a Grade 7 teacher at a small school in Stewart, B.C.. He had 17 students that first year. It was a class he was warned was difficult, and had gone through teachers like McDonald’s goes through ketchup.
It was a challenge Krajnyak took on willingly.
His first day, he jumped on the desks during a mapping lesson and started drawing on a large piece of paper. When the paper ran out, he drew on the walls.
The students mouths were agape.
“I had a great time with them because I went in as a big kid,” he says.
Krajnyak came to Chilliwack in 1981; his first gig was at Central Elementary. Over the last 33 years, he’s also worked at Watson, Yarrow, Vedder, Little Mountain, Cultus Lake, East Chilliwack, Robertson, and Promontory.
He became a principal in 1987.
“Elementary school is my place,” he says. “The kids are so full of energy. We come here to play. We’re dealing with five-year-olds and what do five-year-olds do? They play. What do 11-year-olds do? They play.
“Yes, we have to infuse learning in there, but it’s elementary school, it should be fun.”
Krajnyak points to his black T-shirt that reads ‘I’m never growing up’.
“That’s who I am,” he says. “I’m a little crazy at times. I’m unconventional. I have me-diagnosed ADHD.
“And it was good news for me that people thought that was okay.”
Krajnyak can’t remember the exact year he ditched the professional suit and tie look, but recalls the exact moment.
It was when he was teaching at Robertson elementary, one of Chilliwack’s inner-city schools. Rather than sit behind his desk during recess and lunch, he was almost always out on the fields, often playing soccer or football with the kids.
One day Krajnyak slid through the mud.
“There was a collective gasp,” he recalls. “I had mud up and down, all over my suit.”
And he couldn’t call home for a change of clothes; he’d long lectured his students that these were muddy sports, if they fall, they don’t call home. And so, he marched into his class and announced:
“I got muddy. I’m not calling home. That’s how it’s got to be.”
From that day, he’s worn T-shirts.
But not just any T-shirts, fun T-shirts. Shirts with playful sayings and familiar cartoon characters, shirts that got kids giggling, that got them thinking.
At his retirement last month, 50 were hung for all to see.
“I’ve probably got another 25 at home,” he laughs.
Krajnyak has been at Promontory for the last seven years. The children who started kindergarten his first year graduated out this year.
With an average of 560 students each year, it was the largest school he’d ever worked at for the longest period of time.
“It matched my personality or my personality matched it,” he says. “It’s a big school, it’s busy, there’s lots of things going on. I was always running around.”
Just the way he liked it.
Krajnyak has loved his career from the first moment he walked through that classroom door in Stewart. He still loves it.
Why exit now?
“That’s the point,” he says, “I still love what I’m doing.
“The last thing I wanted people to say was that he should have gone three years ago. I didn’t want to be pushed onto the iceberg, I wanted to be stepping onto it.”
And just like a kid, Krajnyak plans to walk into the retirement sunset with no plans whatsoever.
“Kids don’t make plans,” he smirks. “They just let things happen.”