Carl Bruce is a Utah principal of the year without a school.

After receiving the honor this summer, Bruce left the helm at Snowcrest Junior High, noted as an education model by some leaders, for a Weber School District job.Like his principalship, Bruce will carve new paths as the premiere school safety and fine arts supervisor. Still, visiting district classrooms on the first day of school wasn't the same from the outside looking in.

"I'm having withdrawal symptoms," the 50-year-old new grandfather chuckled Wednesday. "The district assignment gives me a chance to work with all schools and administrators in the district, but it's not like having your own school and your own kids."

Bruce might not have entered education without his wife, Kay, an English teacher at T.H. Bell Junior High in Ogden. As he approached graduation from Utah State University, she urged the chemical engineering hopeful to join her in an education class.

"I was hooked," said Bruce, who has a master's degree in science education. "There's nothing more exciting than to watch the (students') `Aha!' moment when it clicks, when it makes sense. That's what makes it so worthwhile."

While teaching at Bonneville High, Bruce worked as district coordinator of inservice education, math and science. He was district coordinator of secondary gifted and talented programs while assistant principal at Weber High. In 1991, Bruce came to Eden's Snow-crest.

"I couldn't have inherited a better situation here than to follow Carl Bruce. I'm a very lucky man," said new Snowcrest principal Robert Stillwell, former T.H. Bell principal.

Bruce is flattered by the comment. After all, Snowcrest is his baby. It boosts his energy and compels him to sketch impromptu diagrams to explain.

The school has a board of directors of eight elected parents and eight school staffers. The school day is lengthened, then shortened two hours every other Wednesday for teacher collaborative time.

Students receive no credit for assignments scored lower than 70 percent to ensure skill mastery. Those struggling receive tutoring and opportunities to improve work. Achievers take enrichments, such as a river ecology/fly fishing course, supported by local businesses and volunteers.

The number of students with lower than C grades has dropped from 37 percent to 14 percent.

"I think he went above and beyond," said Phil Oyler, executive director of the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals. "He was just so involved with students and getting the community and students involved."

Bruce pored over report cards, writing notes to improving students. Good behavior earned tickets for a weekly candy drawing; a year-end drawing promises prizes including a mountain bike.

Bruce's organization and leadership skills beckoned the district, said Weber Superintendent Tim Chatelain. "As you go into administration, there are some trade-offs. You don't have that close relationship with kids but you get to go out to schools, see lots of kids and what's happening on a larger scale."

Indeed, Bruce spent Wednesday morning in schools, smiling at students' new haircuts and first-day excitement. At Snowcrest, he got plenty of hellos and hugs and participated in a math class, just like he used to.

That's because of a school gift: a tree bearing yellow ribbons promising he could be principal any time. "I couldn't keep my eyes from sweating," he recalls.

Bruce adds the Utah Principal of the Year award to other honors, including the 1983 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching and the 1998 Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education, which includes $10,000 cash. But without a school to lead, he cannot compete for top national honors at a national symposium in October.

"I look around and there are so many principals deserving of recognition. I don't know why I'm singled out, but I'm honored," Bruce said. "When you honor administrators, you're really honoring educators. When you honor educators, you really honor education and children."