South Summit principal receives Huntsman Award | ParkRecord.com

South Summit principal receives Huntsman Award

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

The yellow sign on the old two-lane road leading to South Summit High School says dead end, but the school is anything but. Inside, there is a fury of learning going on mixed with a deserved sense of student pride.

In his three years as South Summit High School principal, Gary Twitchell has transformed the school, raising test scores, focusing energies on English as a Second Language and attaining state accreditation for the past two years, the first time since 1991.

Besides academics, he has brought sports and accompanying school spirit to the forefront, and last week he was awarded the 2007 Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education, one of 10 such awards given statewide.

"It was kind of a surprise," Twitchell said of receiving the award, presented by Karen Huntsman.

South Summit Superintendent Tim Smith, who nominated Twitchell for the award, kept the award a secret, asking Twitchell to hold an emergency assembly for the school. Twitchell said he hurried students into the assembly only to find, to his embarrassment, it was all about honoring him.

"I was able to catch him totally off guard," said Smith. "He thought it was going to be something bad."

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"I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say," Twitchell said of the award. "I’m still a little stunned."

The Huntsman Award, given by the Jon and Karen Huntsman family, recognizes the best educators in the state, selected by a panel of judges made up of business leaders and educators. This year, the awards went to one administrator and two teachers from elementary, middle and high schools. One school volunteer also received the award. The 10 recipients receive $10,000 each, as well as a crystal trophy.

Twitchell, who rides his motorcycle to school on warm days, would like a Harley some day, but sees that as a frivolous way to spend money. Instead, he said he will set the unexpected wind fall aside in savings, for his son Jordan’s college education and to help his other son, Curtis, who is on a mission in the Philippines.

What does his wife think of the $10,000 prize? "She’s really excited, and anxious to spend some of it."

Previously, Twitchell was the assistant principal of Alta High School in Salt Lake. He brought his family to Kamas so his two sons could attend a smaller high school, in this case about 400 students. "We really liked the area," he said.

He didn’t realize the challenges the high school faced until he became principal. The high school had seemingly given up on accreditation, making colleges hesitant to accept South Summit graduates.

"I let the staff know, we didn’t have an option," he said.

He made certain the school was in compliance with state guidelines, and formed a community council, necessary for accreditation. He also insisted that teachers were teaching in their area of expertise, and under his guidance the school brought test scores up by 20 percent.

Twitchell strengthened the ESL program, reviewed the curriculum, and in his second year, South Summit High School attained accreditation.

"Almost all the credit should go to the teachers," he said.

"He’s been doing a superb job at the high school, raising academic levels and test scores, and teachers are following his example," Smith said. "He’s kept the staff from straying from the desired outcome. He doesn’t waiver from expectations."

"He’s done good job," said Sterling Draper, a history and psychology teacher. "Test scores are up. He’ really organized things and brought things into line."

As a sports enthusiast, Twitchell soon realized students wanted to participate on a cross-country team, but there was no team, so he formed one. The girl’s cross country team is now competitive in the region.

Twitchell can be found at school sporting events as one of the most enthusiastic supporters. But he is not just an observer. He lifts weights with the football team, and with his high school wrestling background, wrestles his wrestlers in practice. "If you’re not in shape, they’ll thump you," he said.

Student Emma Johnson, a junior, who attended the ’emergency assembly,’ was pleased for Twitchell.

"We don’t normally win stuff like this," she said.

A banquet held in honor of the 10 Huntsman award recipients will be held at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 11.