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Sandy Journal

Rowley soars into being top Hawk as Alta High’s McGill heads up District’s student services

Feb 07, 2022 02:23PM ● By Julie Slama

Brian McGill, who has served as Alta High’s principal for eight years, leaps for a high 5 with its new principal, Ken Rowley.

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Before Alta High Principal Brian McGill packed up his office, he told students to take charge of their education. 

It’s a motto he has displayed around the school for the past eight years as he finished his dissertation in education at the same time as providing his students more educational opportunities.

“One of the best investments is in educating yourself; the sky is endless,” he said. “But it is difficult (to move out); I’m not going to lie.” 

McGill, who also attended Alta as a student, will continue supporting the school community as his son is a sophomore at the school.

The former Alta principal recently was named 2021 Utah Principal of the Year by the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals. During his tenure, he has overseen the campus renovation, created the successful Step2theU early college pathway with the University of Utah, and has added several academic programs, the link crew peer mentoring program, and Hope Squad’s depression and suicide prevention program that connects youth with proper resources.

McGill also has been an involved principal, hip hopping his way alongside the A-town dance company, deadlifting 245 pounds at an assembly, and at the last assembly in 2021, as a duet with his son, lip-synced Justin Bieber’s “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Now, he will become Canyons School District’s first student services director, which oversees counseling, health and nursing services, behavior interventions, school psychology and other areas.

McGill said he is looking forward, as a member of the superintendent’s cabinet, to sharing his “visionary leadership, which in turn means visionary change and have a larger reach, make a larger impact with more kids across the span of the entire district.” 

During his last month, McGill introduced 26-year educator Ken Rowley to his community. He officially began as principal Jan. 18.  

Rowley had served as Corner Canyon High’s assistant principal this past fall and before that, he taught Spanish and history for 11 years at Juab Junior High in Juab School District followed by serving as principal for 15 years.

“He has a very similar temperament, leadership style and approach to school improvement and I feel confident he can step in (to) lead Alta and push the rocks I’ve pushed here even further,” McGill shared in a letter to parents.

Rowley, who was in the first class to graduate from Western Governor’s University, where he earned his master’s degree in learning and technology and then received his administrative endorsement from Southern Utah University, said he’s been rewarded again and again with his choice of entering education as a career.

“I’ve never once woke up in the morning and said, ‘Oh crap, I have to go to work.’ I wake up with a smile on my face every day and I get to work with the best population in the world,” he said. 

Pursuing education wasn’t his first choice. He was grounded from the dream of being an Air Force pilot for medical reasons. So, as a former high school basketball and football player and 400-meter runner, hurdler and jumper, he took up coaching high school basketball, which lead him into teaching—a career he shared with his father. 

“The most rewarding things I have found in any part of my life is the relationships I’ve been able to build—and not just with adults, but with teenagers, the students I get to work with every day. What drives me, is for me to be able to sit down and get to know somebody well enough that I can learn the things that they need and then I can help them. That’s what I love about education and this opportunity,” Rowley said.

While he said he doesn’t have a checklist of things he’d like to change, he does have one expectation.

“I am a person who seeks the truth. I want people to be honest with me. I want people to tell me exactly what’s going on because if you hide the truth, real change and real improvement will never happen. I am not afraid of the cold hard facts,” Rowley said. “I will never judge anyone, and I will show kindness and love every opportunity.”

He learned that while growing up on the family’s fruit farm near Santaquin.

“My dad would say, ‘OK, roll them up. Let’s get going.’ And we’d roll our sleeves up and go to work. I’m not afraid to get dirty. I’m not afraid to get down and get in the grease and oil and diesel or whatever. I mean, you see something that needs to be done, so you do it. You figure out how to solve the issues and move forward and improve every day,” Rowley said.

That leads to his goal of “a relentless pursuit of excellence. I will try to do the best and be the best that we can possibility be all the time. I am a collaborative-type leader. I will seek input from as many people as I need and sometimes, I’ll make a decision that doesn’t go along with what everybody gave me, but it won’t be for lack of seeking input from the people around me. It’ll just be because that’s what I think is the right thing to do.”

From his experience, Rowley has learned that students should become empowered in their own learning—a message McGill shared before he left. He saw the powerful impact ownership of education had while he was in Juab District.

“I used to see kids walk into a classroom and they’d sit back and say, ‘Teach me if you can’ and teachers, we’re having to do a song and dance and backflips and everything just to entertain the kids enough so that they would remember a little bit,” he said. “So, when we change the culture to, ‘OK, here’s the goal for today’ and start teaching kids how to set a learning goal every day in every class, and we’d put up a proficiency scale that lets them self-evaluate how they did on their goals, I found that students will actually set their own learning goal and it almost doubled what I was setting. Each day, the depth went deeper because of that change in attitude.”

Rowley hopes to see that become a norm at Alta, a place he expects to nest for quite a while.

“I’m hoping to be a long-term Hawk,” he said. “I like that idea.”