New Principals Highlight Love for ProfessionOct 07, 2016 02:24PM ● By Travis Barton
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
As West Valley City’s school start, new faces will be seen in the hallways, including the faces of new head principals at four different schools.
The West Valley Journal caught up with all as they start their journey to ask about their backgrounds and outlook on education.
Valley Jr. High School
A former running back for the Minnesota Vikings drafted out of the University of Utah, Spencer entered his first year at Valley Jr. High after spending the previous six years as principal at West Lake Jr. High.
Spencer said he works with a great staff, which has eased the transition.
“I never feel like people work for me, I feel like we all work with each other,” Spencer, a native of Compton, Calif., said.
Spencer’s philosophy of working with kids means respecting them and understanding their needs.
“You got to give them the opportunity to be respectful and sometimes the way you do that is by being respectful to them first,” Spencer said.
It also means meeting the students at their level of knowledge. Spencer gave the example of a construction class they created at West Lake when some students were struggling with math.
“It was basically woodshop, but we threw the math component in so everybody had to understand the math that went along with the building,” Spencer said. Many of the students had parents who worked in construction.
“You got to find what’s good in the kids,” Spencer said. He often sits down with students during lunch to get to know them oftentimes facilitating friendships between students who otherwise wouldn’t know their classmates’ interest.
This included meeting a student at Valley whose dad went to high school with Spencer in Compton. It gave Spencer an opportunity to reminisce with a former classmate.
At the conclusion of his football career, Spencer—who earned his master’s degree in education—came back to Utah to work for Xerox becoming the first African-American area manager in Utah. But it was after his three kids left for college that Spencer decided to jump back in the education game.
“[While at Utah] I took school very serious. I didn’t mind going back to Compton but I didn’t want to have to go back to Compton,” Spencer said. “Education is the key to all of it so after my kids got into college I decided to go back to what I really wanted to do, and that was education.”
During his time at Valley, Spencer said he hopes to involve parents more, which, as a consequence, will improve behavior.
“If the parents feel like the school is so open that they can walk in anytime, kids know there’s a good chance their parents will walk in at any time and that’s when kids do better,” Spencer said.
Hunter Jr. High School
She often gets the question and the answer is always the same, yes, Carol Carroll is her real name.
“People say funny stuff about it still and it never bothers me, I’m just kind of used to it,” Carroll said of people’s reaction to her name.
Once, when Carroll was a teacher, she had a principal ask her to not have the students call her by her first name before slowly realizing what he was requesting.
Having graduated from high school in Denver, Colo., Carroll moved to Utah a year later getting her undergraduate degree from the University of Utah and her master’s degree from Utah State. But it was her job as aide at Midvale Middle School that inspired her passion to work with kids.
“I really, really enjoy junior high kids, you have to know their sense of humor, that they’re still learning social skills and they say and do things that are weird, but we still love them,” Carroll said.
Carroll said there’s no other age group she’d rather work with and for that reason she loves coming to work every day.
“Sometimes what they do is just the learning process and you can’t get mad at them, you just have to teach them something different,” Carroll said.
Having previously worked as a teacher, counselor and assistant principal, Carroll takes over the job coming from her position in the Granite School District as associate director of the Youth in Custody program. Carroll would oversee all the sites where youth, in the custody of the State of Utah, were placed and got their education.
Carroll said she wants kids to remember their junior high years in a positive light.
“They are good experiences that help develop who we become…I want them to say, ‘those were really good years at Hunter Jr. High,’” Carroll said.
Carroll’s love for children extends beyond her profession with nine grandchildren.
“They are my hobby; I absolutely love them. I love to be around them,” Carroll said.
Pioneer Elementary School
Weeks before school was set to begin, Johnson was preparing for his fourth year as principal at Gerald Wright Elementary when the principal at Pioneer Elementary resigned to move to Washington. The district transferred him over to Pioneer effective Aug. 3.
In his three years at Gerald Wright, Johnson oversaw the improvement in the school’s SAGE scores every year prompting the district to transfer him.
It was an immediate and sudden transition, one where Johnson needed to forge relationships quickly.
“My first and most important part of this new position is building that trusting relationship, not just with the students and teachers but with the community as well,” Johnson said.
Involving the community is Johnson’s first goal for the new school. Johnson had food trucks come to parent-teacher conferences as a way to engage the neighborhood. He also has an open door policy to address needs and concerns.
“I want [parents] to feel like [the school] is part of their community and not just a place they send their kids to come and learn,” Johnson said.
The last minute transfer, while a surprise, was not a shock. Johnson said he is used to sudden changes. After receiving a degree in marketing and administration from Utah State, he was working in store management with Kmart when he decided to quit focusing more time on his family.
Johnson began working as a substitute teacher eventually earning the necessary licensing and endorsements.
Johnson, a father of six, said he considers any involvement with kids a teaching and learning opportunity.
“I’m convinced that if kids feel respected, loved and appreciated then they’re going to behave differently and their academics will be different as well,” Johnson said.
As principal, Johnson said he hopes he can instill in the kids a desire to learn during his time at the school.
“It’s that they have the desire to learn the most that they can here, do the best they can and be accountable for what they’re doing to take onto the next level in their life,” Johnson said.
A native of Sugar House, Johnson is an avid photographer taking second place at the state fair for his photos. He also loves basketball and golf.
Jackling Elementary School
For Roper, working with kids was always in her blood. Her mom was a teacher and had other family members who worked in schools as educators.
“From the time I was young I wanted to be a teacher,” Roper, a Hillcrest High graduate, said.
And as a teacher, she hasn’t stopped learning. Roper has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in hearing impairments. She taught hearing-impaired students at Utah’s School for the Deaf for five years. Roper is also four classes away from finishing her doctorate in educational leadership.
After two years as an assistant principal at Hillsdale Elementary and Vista Elementary, Roper is in her first year as principal and it’s an opportunity she can relish.
“It’s a challenge to see if you can implement some things that will make positive change for others and I love challenges,” Roper said.
Positivity goes a long way, Roper said, in the development of children.
“Letting them know we care about them as kids and individuals will help us then be able to teach them,” Roper, a mother of three kids and two stepdaughters, said.
That positivity encompasses teachers as well. Roper said it’s important for them to have her support.
“They are the leaders and the change-makers. I’m here as support but they’re the ones who truly have the job of helping these kiddos,” Roper said.
Just as with Johnson and Spencer, Roper said she hopes to see more collaboration with the community in order to build a positive culture within around the school.
Now that Roper has seen her passion for teaching grow from a childhood desire to a fully-fledged career, she said this profession has an insurmountable importance in today’s world.
“It is the profession that builds all other professions. We teach young people how to think and then they go out into the world and work in various professions thinking and shaping our society,” Roper said. “So I think we have the most important job in the world.” λ