A man of principle

Rock Bridge principal and father rules through enthusiasm
Wednesday, November 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:04 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kids don’t come to Principal Bruce Brotzman’s office out of fear. They usually show up at the Rock Bridge administrator’s door because they want advice or direction.

Brotzman, 44, is known for his energy. Good thing, because he plays two roles at school: principal and dad.

His daughter, Hannah, a senior, and his son, Nate, a sophomore, are students at Rock Bridge. It’s common for his children and their friends to come into his office and throw their book bags in a corner or on the floor, like it’s the Brotzman household.

“But that’s how I like it,” he said.

Hannah likes having her father as her principal because he is so encouraging.

“I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she said. “Most people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to have to go to school for a long time for that,’ but my dad just tells me that I can do whatever I want to do, and to do what I love.”

But, Hannah said, there is a downside.

“Everyone refers to me as the principal’s daughter, and I hate it,” she said.

Hannah, 17, is the oldest of Bruce and Ellen Brotzman’s four children. Her brothers are Nate, 15, Gabe, 13, and Jacob, 10.

While Brotzman spends time encouraging his family, he is also committed to his staff. Cynthia McCord, a Rock Bridge art teacher, remembers how much Brotzman helped her in 1998, even though he had been at the school for only a few months.

“My house was in the tornado in South Ridge in 1998,” she said. “And that man came over and helped me move things that day. He took charge and organized things at school and had people help me move my stuff into storage. It was just amazing. It made my heart feel good.”

Six years ago, Brotzman’s energy and enthusiasm helped him get the job of principal at Rock Bridge. He came to Columbia from Robinson, Ill., because the Columbia Public School District was nationally recognized for its excellence, he said.

Kathy Ritter, assistant principal at Rock Bridge, interviewed Brotzman for the principal’s job.

“I asked him if he’d be comfortable wearing a Hawaiian skirt in a school assembly,” Ritter said.

Brotzman said yes, and Ritter said she knew then he would be enthusiastic and not afraid to take risks — a perfect person for the job.

Brotzman’s enthusiasm motivates teachers as well.

“Bruce has me all charged up because that’s how he is,” McCord said. “He has unending energy, and you’ve got to have that to run a school.”

Mary Dix, who teaches English and social studies, agrees with McCord.

“He’s always enthusiastic,” Dix said. “He has incredible ideas.”

Malcolm Smith, a math teacher now in his fourth year at Rock Bridge, knew he wanted to work at the school after his interview with Brotzman. Smith said he immediately liked Brotzman’s personality.

Smith continues to notice Brotzman’s disposition.

“I’ve never seen his dark side,” Smith said.

Three years ago, Brotzman, along with four teachers from Rock Bridge and about 15 other educators from the St. Louis area, represented Missouri educators for three weeks in China while they learned about the culture. They were sent to the country through the Regional Professional Development Center of St. Louis.

Dix, who went to China with the group, said that while they were there, Brotzman wanted to see what China was really like.

“He would be up at five in the morning to go jogging through the city,” she said. “He wanted to see it as it was waking up.”

Brotzman would then come back and tell the group what he had seen, Dix said.

“My favorite thing was getting off the beaten path to meet local people,” Brotzman said.

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