Among the pile of cards created by Kensler Elementary School students and addressed to Kimberly Pruitt’s family is one from fourth-grader Riley Bell.
“We all are very sad, but we did have some very good times with her, like when she makes us laugh!” Riley wrote. “She was very friendly and loved to have fun! Mrs. Pruitt was the best principal ever.”
Under the words, Riley drew a picture of Mrs. Pruitt on the electric scooter that the principal used to ride through the classrooms and hallways at Kensler – a huge smile on her face, a “K” for Kensler on her shirt, and a yellow-crayon halo with rays of light above her head.
Mrs. Pruitt, who worked 35 years as an elementary school teacher and then administrator for the Wichita school district, died Sunday from complications after a heart attack. She was 57.
Students and colleagues at Kensler in west Wichita – and at other schools where Mrs. Pruitt served as principal, including College Hill and Seltzer – are mourning the loss of an educator who they said related to everyone with kindness and optimism.
“She always saw the good in people – always,” said Megan Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Kensler.
Mrs. Pruitt, who hired Smith directly out of college about seven years ago, “just encouraged me constantly,” the teacher said Tuesday, wiping away tears.
“She had so much faith in me, and I feel like she just made me be a better teacher.”
Smith recalled how Mrs. Pruitt would observe her in the classroom and then write a note and leave it in her box, detailing the things Smith did well.
“I still have them all, actually,” Smith says of the notes.
“She said I had a great interaction with kids and she enjoyed watching me. … And I could always go to her with questions. She was always available, always on my side if I needed something.”
Julie Scott, assistant principal at Kensler, sent an automated ParentLink message to families on Sunday informing them that Mrs. Pruitt had passed away. She had been in the hospital for two weeks, but the death still came as a shock, Scott said.
“While we knew it was going to be a really long road and that she likely wouldn’t be back this year, we really just didn’t anticipate this at all,” she said. “It took us all by surprise.”
Steve Pruitt, Mrs. Pruitt’s husband of nearly 34 years and a retired high school teacher, said the outpouring of support from friends and colleagues has been overwhelming.
“I am completely humbled by what people have offered to do for me and my family,” Steve Pruitt said.
He described his wife as “a planner, a list-maker, always the organized one who had things together while I was the free spirit.”
Mrs. Pruitt’s tenacity was evident through her two-week hospital stay, he said, when she rallied to get off of a ventilator and breathe on her own and was talking with family members on Saturday, just hours before she died.
“It’s like she didn’t want to leave this world until she got to tell the people she loved that she loved them,” he said. “That was on her list, and she wasn’t going to leave it undone.”
Counselors from the Wichita school district’s crisis team spent Monday at Kensler, talking with students and staff members, encouraging them to share memories of Mrs. Pruitt verbally or in writing.
Many said they will remember the principal on her blue scooter, buzzing around corners just a little too fast sometimes. One student drew Mrs. Pruitt with her hair blown back like Snoopy’s scarf when he raced the Red Baron.
“She could maneuver that thing pretty well, but she still left a few marks around,” said Linda Kirby, the school social worker.
“There’s one,” she said, smiling and pointing to a dark smudge on a wall outside Mrs. Pruitt’s office.
Mrs. Pruitt started her career as a teacher at Woodman Elementary in 1981. She served as an assistant principal at Bryant and principal at Seltzer and College Hill before taking the helm at Kensler in 2007.
“There are so many examples of building administrators … that Kim mentored along the way,” Steve Pruitt said. “It makes me feel better, because she left a legacy behind and maybe she’s able to continue to have that impact on educators and on kids even after she’s gone.”
A rosary for Mrs. Pruitt will be held 6:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 123 Andover Road in Andover, and a funeral mass at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Vincent. Memorial gifts in her name may be sent to the Kansas Humane Society, 3313 N. Hillside, Wichita, KS 67219.
School officials said proceeds from a previously scheduled “Sonic Night” fundraiser – 5 to 9 p.m. May 5 at the Sonic location at Maple and Tyler – will be donated to the Pruitt family.