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Principal of the year known for innovation

Published February 2, 2012 9:01 am

Education • Suzanne Kimball named top middle-school principal for work at Mapleton, Salem junior highs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mapleton and Salem junior highs have something in common — and not simply their location within Utah County's Nebo School District.

Both schools have a connection to Utah's middle-school principal of the year, Suzanne Kimball, who has been instrumental in launching both schools.

Kimball received the statewide award in mid-January from the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals. She will go to Washington, D.C., in September to be recognized on a national level.

Kimball recently left her position as principal of Mapleton Junior High — a post she has held for the past five years — to work toward the creation of Salem Junior High, scheduled for fall 2012.

"I have received numerous phone calls, emails and personal visits from people upset that she is leaving Mapleton, including my own children," said Kristin Betts, a friend and colleague who worked with Kimball as a PTA president and member of Nebo's Board of Education.

"She has earned the trust and respect of everyone who associates with her," Betts said. "Without a doubt, she is the finest principal I know."

And that's why Betts, in her capacity as a school board member, favored Kimball for the Salem position. She had been impressed with what the principal had been able to accomplish at Mapleton. She said Kimball was never satisfied with the status quo and always tried to incorporate innovative practices into the classroom to help students succeed.

Kimball described one such innovation at Mapleton. She helped develop a program that assigned teams of teachers and administrators to each grade level. Those teams analyzed the needs of the students in those grades.

In practice, the process would go something like this: A teacher mentions a student who may perform better at the front of the class. The team selects a teacher to serve as an adviser. That teacher would ensure that changes are made and that the student's grades improve.

Did it make a difference? Kimball thinks so.

She said one of her assistants asked a new student how he liked the school. The student said, "I love this school." When the assistant probed a little deeper, the student said, "All the adults care that I'm doing well, and nobody lets me slip. Nobody lets me fail."

"That's the goal — that no child fails," Kimball said. "We can always find something they can do better in and find success."

Under Kimball's direction, Mapleton introduced another innovation. Last year it hired a data analyst, Terese Mitchell, who has been using quiz-by-quiz and unit-by-unit data collection to figure out the best way to meet students' needs.

Because of that analysis, Kimball said, teachers "are able to question the validity of test items, find areas where they were taught a concept well and what specific concepts need to be retaught or emphasized as they move on in the curriculum."

Kimball is working with a new staff at Salem. But she hasn't changed the leadership style that distinguished her at Mapleton.

"We're getting the staff together, ordering every item that will go into the new school, deciding on a mascot — we decided on the Spartans — and getting the students excited about the new school," Kimball said. "We want to make decisions based on the data we've gathered and do what's best for the students. We want that to be the focus. It's a fun challenge. It's a lot of work, but it's fun."

Megan Langford, who teaches and mentors at Mapleton, has worked with Kimball for nine years. She saw the principal lead a team during a complex transition from Springville Junior High — which consisted of grades 6 and 7 — to Mapleton Junior High, which caters to grades 7, 8 and 9.

"Suzanne's personal commitment to excellence is a shining light for all those within her influence," Langford said. "Her passion and innovation have left an indelible mark on our school, community and district."