South Jordan communities bid fond farewells to long-time principals, welcome new leaders
Mar 16, 2020 02:38PM
● By Julie Slama
On his last day as South Jordan Elementary principal, Ken Westwood takes a break from dancing to take a selfie with two of his students. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
The line stretched out of the gymnasium, into the hallway and reached the school’s outer doors before curling around. There were photos, hugs, tears, smiles and embraces as current and former students and their families parted ways with South Jordan Elementary Principal Ken Westwood.
“There wasn’t intended to be a line; I just got caught by one family and then people stopped to talk to me for a few minutes,” Westwood said. “We usually draw a couple hundred for our family dance night, but this also turned out to be a bit of a farewell.”
Eventually, Westwood made it out on the dance floor, only to take a few more selfies with students in among the chicken dance, bunny hop, YMCA, macarena and a few other dances under the strobe lights.
“The kids had a lot of fun with it, and I can store a lot of digital smiles and tears as these students have stolen a piece of my heart,” he said about the hundreds of school children he has impacted at the school the past eight years. “It was really gracious of middle school and high school students to come back and wish their ol’ principal well.”
Westwood recently was reassigned to Oakcrest Elementary in West Jordan. While finishing recommending a teacher for an outstanding educator award, he reflected over his years at South Jordan Elementary.
“I feel we made positive impacts with teaching technology and arts, but also for many, we made kids feel safe and feel like somebody,” he said.
Many South Jordan Elementary students immediately thought their new principal, Bev Griffith, was all right.
“Everybody loved me the first day with having a day off (with the cancellation of school because of the approximate 12 inches of snowfall in South Jordan),” she said. “I had nothing to do with it, but they thought I was pretty amazing to do that.”
Another early question for the incoming principal was if she was a University of Utah or a Brigham Young University fan.
“I graduated from the U and Y so I’m a fan of both,” she said, adding that many in her family have studied at almost all of Utah’s colleges and universities so she added, “I can support all Utah higher education.”
The 30-year veteran educator already knew about half the faculty when she arrived in February, from having provided professional development in the district. She has served as a reading specialist/instructional coach, classroom teacher for grades 1 through 4 and an assistant principal at Fox Hollow Elementary in West Jordan.
Through her years in education, she has become a fan of Battle of the Books and may entertain introducing the program at South Jordan Elementary.
“Anything to do with reading, I love. The more we read, the more we learn. I just love to curl up with a book,” she said, adding that she is helping some of her younger grandchildren learn how to read.
These are just some of many administrative changes that happened early this calendar year.
Jordan School District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey said because of new schools opening up, a shift was needed so principals could prepare. He also said that by having a mid-year change, principals who were at established schools could “start in a fully functioning school to get to know the community, the students, the teachers.”
South Jordan Middle also welcomed a new principal, Nicole Johnson, who previously had been an assistant principal at Jordan Hills and Rosamond elementary schools.
“I live in this community and love this community,” Johnson said. “Middle school has always been my first love. I love connecting with this age group, having good adult advocates for them as they grow and change and learn to make good decisions.”
Johnson, who is a physical fitness and nutrition enthusiast and shares that passion with her family, has been an educator for 20 years, including teaching at Valley Junior High in West Valley City and Murray High, being the career and technical educator coordinator at Copper Hills High in West Jordan and a CTE consultant and principal at Jordan Academy for Technology and Careers — South.
“I’m big on culture, relationships and making connections so people are valued,” she said. “I want to make strong connections with students and be the principal that is out in the classroom, in the lunchroom and know students by their names. I want to sit down with each (staff and faculty) person to see what’s important to them, so we all work together to create plans and make decisions.”
Johnson introduced herself to the school community shortly before Principal Shawn McLeod left the post to open Hidden Valley Middle School in Bluffdale.
“I have spent the last 16 years serving the students, staff and parents of South Jordan. I have loved every minute of it,” he said, adding he also worked at Bingham High in the South Jordan community for three years.
“I will miss the students and staff most of all,” he said. “The relationships that I have made will forever be with me. The things I appreciate most about SoJo Middle are the students, teachers and staff. Supportive parents help make our school great. The culture of high expectations for student learning and then, the follow-through of teachers' supporting students in achieving the high expectations. It is a unique place where parental support is high, students and teachers work collaboratively to reach high standards, and a culture of acceptance of each other is very important.”
While McLeod already has toured his new school, which should open in the fall, his thoughts were with his former community.
“As I move into my new school, I say farewell to a large part of my educational career,” he said. “I salute the teachers and staff who care deeply about students and about their learning. I say farewell to a community that is supportive and caring. I am grateful for my time serving in this great school and this great community.”