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Cottonwood Heights Journal

New Woodstock, Cottonwood principals to welcome students

Aug 02, 2022 10:25AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Two new faces are greeting students this fall, stepping in the shoes of former beloved principals who have left Woodstock Elementary and Cottonwood High.

At Woodstock Elementary, Kristie Reather will greet about 500 students, some she met last spring, as former principal Brenda Byrnes has left to work in the Granite School District office.

Nearby, Mike Douglas got a jump start, moving into his office in June and was trying to meet with some of the Cottonwood High community before school began. He takes over for retiring principal Terri Roylance.

Education, especially elementary school, isn’t new to Reather.

“I just I love school and my folks traveled around a lot,” she said. “I went to five different elementary schools, and I had some amazing teachers that made a huge impact on me,” she said, adding she remembered her second-grade teacher Mrs. Parabeck at Central Heights Elementary in Billings, Montana let her hang out at school until her older siblings got home.

“She made it easier and cared a lot about me and touched my life,” Reather said. “She just helped me want to do the same thing. She influences the lives of all the kids that I touch now.”

Reather also fondly remembered her seventh-grade choir teacher, Harold Anderson at Riverside Junior High, also in Billings.

“I was racing to class one day because of course it was 30 seconds before the bell rang, and I was eating as quick as I could. He stopped me. I thought, ‘I'm going to be in so much trouble.’ But instead of yelling at me, he told me I needed to go out for track. It's just moments like that that make a difference. So, I did, and I even broke some records,” she said.

Reather went on to earn her bachelor’s in elementary education with a focus in language arts and her master’s in elementary education, both from Utah State. She also holds a master’s in educational leadership.

As an educator, she taught nine years in both first and third grades. She’s been a school reading specialist, a District reading coach, an interventionalist, an instructional consultant and an assistant support coach. Before coming to Woodstock, she was assistant principal at Hunter Junior and at Olympus High.

“I've been from elementary to high school and the bottom line is kids are kids and their bodies get bigger, but they're still amazing and the decisions they make as they get older, of course can impact them a little bit more. They all need to be loved and accepted and we need to raise them up to become their best. Flexibility and laughter are the key. Establishing those relationships, making sure everyone's safe and respected, and just eliminating obstacles that interfere with learning is my job,” Reather said, adding that she plans to be with the students as much as possible, playing four-square or going along with the PTA doing some crazy things to help motivate them to read.

“I love reading. I’ve recently been reading about World War II, and I also love John Grisham, but usually it’s just whatever strikes my fancy,” she said, adding that she also loves playing with her three grandkids and traveling to places such as Yellowstone National Park and Puerto Rico.

But her heart is being at school.

“I love being a principal,” Reather said. “People who have reached out to me said Woodstock is phenomenal. I've heard wonderful things about the students and their families, how caring and involved they are, and all the activities they do. I’ve heard Woodstock is their family so that makes me happy because it’s now my family, too.”

That’s how outgoing principal Byrnes has felt the past five years at Woodstock.

“I always try to be in the lunchroom, go outside with the kids, be outside with them before and after school,” she said. “I read certain books to every grade level. So, throughout the year, many times I'd go in and read books to them and they love it and I love it my tradition as well. I’m going to miss it.”

After a pause, she continued.

“I love being in education. There is no doubt this is what I was meant to do,” she said, adding that she came from a family of educators. “I'm going to obviously miss the kids and the staff and the teachers. We genuinely consider ourselves to be a family. We genuinely care about each other and are so close and tightknit.”

During her tenure, Woodstock’s academic growth has risen.

“Our greatest accomplishment is that we have steadily increased our academic achievement base, you know, and we've got data to show that over the past five years,” she said. “That has to do with everybody in the Woodstock family, saying ‘this is what we're going to do.’ I'm super proud of everyone’s hard work and efforts.”

During the last few weeks of spring, Reather shadowed Byrnes on Fridays, so she got to learn about the school and its routine and even a bit about the “sweet seat,” a place of honor created first by a teacher, now in the school office.

“Students are nominated for any reason, whether it's they've improved a test score, they've just given it their best, they improved their behavior or whatever the teachers see. I love it because it's just time where they get to sit and tell me about what they did and how awesome they are— so we get to celebrate together,” Byrnes said, adding that she also sends a personal note to their parents.

While Byrnes acknowledges she will be a step further away from the students, she will still have an impact in their education hiring teachers who will have a positive impact in the classroom as Granite District’s human resources associate director.

“It’s an honor to be chosen for this position. We need good teachers for our district and part of my skill set is getting people excited about being part of education here,” Byrnes said.

Douglas also is excited about his new position so much he is knocking on doors adjacent to the campus to introduce himself—on top of being part of a group who is trying to visit about 400 incoming ninth-graders’ homes.

“We're going to give them a welcome backpack with some school supplies and a Cottonwood T-shirt or swag in there, see what extracurricular activities they are interested in, and invite them to a welcome barbecue,” he said. “I want people to know I have an open-door policy if they have any great ideas they want to share or questions they need to ask or even concerns that they can call me.”

During the year, he plans to be at several extracurricular events and activities, from the performing arts (which will include a new upgraded sound system and sound booth this fall) to clubs and sports.

“I wanted to be at a high school. High school has it all—all the extracurricular activities, the clubs, the sports, AP (advanced placement classes), concurrent enrollment, robotics, chess, debate, arts—if there's anything you love or are interested in, you can participate in that in high school level,” he said.

As a Cyprus High School student, Douglas played football—“my coaches had a great influence on me in my life and shaping me as a as a person as a man and I wanted to be able to do that for other people”—and did ceramics.

“I just loved it. I had an affinity to it and I ended up being pretty good at it,” he said, having earned art awards not only in high school, but also while attending Dixie State University. “It's an incredible thing to take a lump of clay and make something beautiful out of it. My pottery teacher Joe Van Leeuwen would say life is like a lump of clay. He’s now retired, but he was an amazing teacher.”

Another teacher who had indirectly influenced Douglas into a career in education was his fifth-grade teacher who in struggling to have the students focus would take away recess time when they didn’t pay attention.

“What she was doing was trying to try to motivate or change behavior using a punitive approach as opposed to saying ‘hey, if we can get through this as a class, you can earn a point’ toward something; for me, it would have been more PE time,” he said. “So instead, she was taking away PE time. I remember I went to the bathroom, and I came back, and all of our PE time had been taken away. I wasn't even in the room, and I love PE, and now it was gone so, I was really upset. That was the part where I thought, ‘I'm never going to do this when I'm a teacher.’ That was the first time I ever thought about being a teacher.”

Douglas went on to earn his bachelor’s in physical education with a minor in history from the University of Utah, then got his master’s in administration and education leadership at the University of Phoenix.

He taught history and government seven years at Cyprus High—right down the hall from his mother, who was finishing her teaching career in English-language arts.

“Some students were lucky enough to have both of us as their teachers so that was fun,” Douglas said.

Now in his 11th year as an administrator, he brings his experiences in education to Cottonwood.

“Every individual matters, every person that walks in your building, whether they're an employee or a student or a parent, that person matters. You give them your time and listen and make sure you hear them; I can't listen to everybody, but our staff can, our teachers can, our assistants can,” he said. “We need to think about the individual student. It's not students. I’ll often say, ‘it’s the student first and always;’ we need to address the individual needs of every student because every student is different. I've learned that each person and all people matter; we need to be respectful and understanding so each of our students excel and achieve and do new things and hard things, the same as I want the staff, the teachers to excel and achieve and to do new and hard things. When we have a growth mindset about people’s ability to learn, then everyone can learn given the right environment, given the right supports.”

Having that strong school culture where students and faculty support one another was a legacy Roylance left behind. Her last year, she met with others to start the Stampede, a club designed to solely support campus groups and get teams and clubs to support one another.

“I just loved my time at Cottonwood, absolutely loved my time there,” she said shortly after moving out of her office in June. “I worked with the best people and had the best kids there. I will miss the people very, very much, there are no regrets.”

Roylance assumed her duties as new Cottonwood High principal in November 2015 when former Principal Alan R. Parrish took a job in Granite School District’s office. She had to prepare for the following fall when about 500 ninth-graders would come to Cottonwood, making it a four-year high school and pushing enrollment to about 1,800 students.

“That whole year was just crazy; we spent planning and going over and interviewing and observing the junior high teachers that were interested to move to Cottonwood and be in the high school. The building remodel (which began in April 2016 and was supposed to be ready by that fall) was not done on time—it wasn't anywhere near finished,” Roylance said. “I remember saying, ‘We got to prioritize, and the classrooms and the cafeteria need to be functional. The rest of us can figure it out.’ We abandoned all the teacher meetings and instead, helped each other get into new rooms that weren't quite finished. It’s one of my favorite memories, just watching teachers help each other. Then, they came to me and say, ‘Terri, what else do you need?’ I just remember thinking that we have the best personnel.”

Another favorite memory was when Cottonwood’s baseball team was playing for the state championship her second year. The game was the same day as graduation; both were held at Utah Valley University.

“I ran down to UVU in the morning with my cap and gown and with the diplomas. I graduated those baseball seniors on the baseball field at UVU right there in front of home plate. Then I quickly sprinted across the field and ran up to make it to our graduation at one o'clock,” Roylance said.

Meanwhile, the team won the state championship. At the commencement ceremony, they baseball team came in and stood by the auditorium doors.

“They were waiting to take my picture with the state trophy. It was awesome; it was so great. I started to cry. I remember standing to front of the audience and my secretary slipped in saying they just won the championship. So, right then and there, I announced that as the graduates were coming up on the stage. It was absolutely a sweet memory,” she said.

Another standout time was when the school’s rookie robotics team qualified to compete at the world championships in Houston.

“It was difficult to raise that kind of money to get the whole team to Houston in the span of 10 days. At first, I thought there's no way we can do this, but our awesome community gathered and rallied around these kids, so they raised more money than was needed for the whole team to go compete,” she said. “Our kids are just awesome. I love to see them outside of the school setting, participating whether it was a theater performance or an athletic competition or with a club. It was just fun to see that side of our kids. I just love the community. We have a very diverse community and I just felt as a privilege and an honor to be there for seven years.”

Even though she’s retiring, she isn’t putting her feet up. She will work for the University of Utah, supervising student teachers at several schools, including at Cottonwood High.

Through her education career thus far, while Roylance taught and was an administrator in several places, Cottonwood has remained a special place for her. Her first placement as a teaching intern was at Cottonwood.

“When I left as an intern, I said, if I should ever be so lucky to come back and work at this school, it would be a dream come true,” she said. “When I was appointed here, I remember thinking this will be my dream job and it has been; it absolutely has been.”