3 Utah principals honored by peers

Published: Thursday, Jan. 8 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Sharon Jensen, assistant principal at Valley High, Joanne Ackerman, principal of West Jordan Middle School, and Dr. Rulon Homer, principal of Davis High, are the state's top school administrators.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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A few teens at Valley High School in Sandy thought it would be fun to videotape themselves jumping off lunchroom tables, in hopes of becoming YouTube stars.

Assistant Principal Sharon Jensen reprimanded the students and explained to them why it wasn't a good idea. But Jensen admits she had to laugh at their antics. "My job is never dull," she said.

The Utah Association of Secondary School Principals named Jensen Assistant Principal of the Year on Wednesday. Also receiving awards were Joanne Ackerman, West Jordan Middle School principal and Rulon Homer, principal of Davis High School in Kaysville.

"You represent what we all want to become, what we all strive for," said UASSP President Todd Quarnberg.

The three administrators received an all-expense-paid trip to the annual state secondary principals conference in St. George later this month.

Jensen will go to the national assistant principals conference in San Diego, Calif., in February. She will find out then if she will be honored nationally and receive prizes of up to $5,000.

Ackerman and Homer will go to the national principals conference in Washington, D.C., in October to see if either of them will receive up to $10,000.

The 2009 winners are nominated by state association members and selected by the association's executive board.

"I'm in shock. To be singled out and chosen by your colleagues is a real honor," Ackerman said.

The three school bosses offered the secrets of their success to other administrators.

Homer is a strong supporter of positive incentive. On any given day he can be found giving out a candy bar as a reward. Some of his struggling students earned dinner and a movie when they passed their spring end-of-level tests. The school provides students free breakfast on exam day.

"These kids can learn. You just have to do some pretty creative things with them," Homer said. "They need to know you care."

Homer is a big fan of "smaller learning community" efforts, with a special focus on student's strengths instead of weaknesses. His presentation, "The Speed of Trust," has been used to train other administrators.

Ackerman believes in an open-door policy with her staff. "I am there to help them," she said. She has implemented an advisory program in her school to emphasize building relations between students, teachers and parents.

Jensen has her students make a verbal agreement with her to do better. They shake hands to seal the deal. She implemented a no-smoking policy which didn't earn her popularity points with some teens, but Valley High is now a smoke-free campus.

Valley High, in Jordan School District, is an alternative school which offers a more flexible program of study for students, some of whom are young parents.

"Some of these kids, if you knew their story, they have been through so much in 17 years, you would be surprised they even get to school," Jensen said.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com

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