Zajicek is Educator of the Year

PROTIVIN - Jim Zajicek started his education and ended his career in education at the same school — Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School in Protivin. He guided many young lives in those 46 years and was chosen as 2023 Educator of the Year in the Times Plain Dealer’s Hall of Fame.
Zajicek has spent the majority of his life in Howard County. He attended Holy Trinity Grade School and graduated from Rudolphinum High School. He graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in education. He earned his MAE degree in 1999 at the University of Northern Iowa.
Zajicek spent his first 18 years of teaching at Notre Dame in Cresco. The doors closed in 1989, and he was fortunate to be hired at Howard-Winneshiek as a social studies and English teacher at Crestwood Junior High. Ten years later, he was hired as the Crestwood High School principal. 
He retired in 2011 . . . sort of. He then started as the principal at the same school where he started his education. He finally retired in 2017.
Fondly remembers career
Zajicek said, “They were great years. To this day, I was glad to be there for the kids and the teachers. The new principal, Mr. Gerald Brown and I still communicate regularly.”
He admitted that even teachers and administrators can learn new things.
“When I was a teacher, I thought I knew it all. All I wanted to do is share what I had, a love for kids. As an administrator I really understood what kids go through. I finally realized the challenges they had. I became a youngster again.”
Zajicek cared for his students, but they cared for him as well. They gave him little gifts of appreciation and hugs, they invited him to birthday and graduation parties. “I knew many of the kids, their friends, their parents and their families,” he recalled.
His least favorite part of his teaching job was to be the disciplinarian. “I didn’t like being the hard-nosed guy who had to take away a privilege and come down as an authority. As an administrator, it was the paperwork. They took away my time to being with kids and teachers. I like to walk the halls. Although, the longer I served, the smarter I got. I learned to delegate!”
He noted being an administrator taught him more. “I learned to have success, you had to find out who you could rely on to help you. With the staff at Crestwood, I found 5-6 teachers I could rely on. I told them that I needed their help in figuring out what was best for kids. They were in the trenches.
“I gave them the credit if it was successful and took the blame if it wasn’t.”
“Before I retired, I got some advice. Someone said, ‘You have to find something you can do. You can only fish so much, and you can only golf so much.’”
He took the advice to heart and decided to become a deacon. So after retirement, he started serving his fellow humans. Most of them are on the other end of the age spectrum from when he was an elementary principal.
“I am so blessed to work with another age group. I got to the homes of shut-ins, care centers and hospitals. I have worked with Hospice and prison jail ministry in Howard and Fayette Counties.
“When I found out so many people didn’t have faith or goals, we’d visit and things started to click with them.”
While going through the diaconate he learned that 6-7 out of 10 families he talked to had a close relative who had been in jail.
One of his greatest experiences was being part of a weekend retreat with prisoners. Some were white collar criminals and some were murderers.
“They had turned their life around. They had no God, and they finally found God.”
Spare time
Although he is busy with his deaconship, Zajicek does find time for himself and family.
He is on the Howard County Community Foundation Committee, Chair of Howard County Extension Council, Lawler Lions and Czech Heritage Partnership.
“I try to garden and do a little golfing. I get a trout stamp. Sometimes I put on a hook, and sometimes I just listen to the stream.” He also likes to read.
He and wife, Pat, enjoy traveling to visit children and grandchildren.
But he still finds time to go back to his roots — teaching. “I sub at Turkey Valley and Trinity. I feel 20 years younger when I walk out of the school that day.”
Zajicek will be honored at the Annual Howard County Business & Tourism Banquet on Wednesday, April 26. It is being held at the Heritage Events Center. Anyone is invited to come to celebrate the newest Educator of the Year. Call or stop by the Cresco Area Chamber for tickets, 563-547-3434.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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