Riverton High principal wins Huntsman Excellence in Education Award
May 28, 2019 03:26PM
By Jet Burnham
Principal Carolyn Gough can’t help but stand and sing when she hears the Riverton High School fight song. (Photo courtesy Carolyn Gough)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Carolyn Gough, principal of Riverton High School, has been awarded a Huntsman Excellence in Education Award.
“Whether it is leading teacher development, mentoring new administrators, dressing as the Sylvester (the school mascot), performing some awesome guitar moves during an assembly, observing a teacher or the countless other duties she performs, Carolyn Gough’s influence and hard work make Riverton High School a phenomenal place to learn and to teach,” wrote RHS teacher Melissa Brown on the nomination application.
English teacher Claudette Rush said Gough has transformed the educational culture and academic philosophy of the school with her focus on developing learning-driven, community-oriented, future-focused and service-minded students and faculty.
“I feel very passionate about student learning and about accountability—holding ourselves accountable for making sure that students are learning,” said Gough.
Gough believes every kid can learn despite their home environment, their language ability or their cognitive ability. Each Wednesday, administrators, counselors and teachers meet to create the “Wednesday List.” They identify students who have additional concerns beyond the classroom and discuss specific ways the faculty can support them.
“Receiving the ‘Wednesday List’ is another reminder that my realm of influence extends beyond my classroom,” said Brown, who teaches math. “It reminds me that we are a community of caring teachers and that many of our students are struggling with difficulties that are far more pressing than academics. This awareness of these students helps me be a more sensitive and effective teacher.”
Gough has also created a behavior committee tasked with identifying and working with students with behavior problems. These select faculty members provide the role of a caring adult at school who is not just focused on grades but who will attend the student’s activities and performances—which Gough feels are an important part of students’ lives.
As a former teacher and coach, Gough knows the importance of extracurricular activities, which she said sometimes take up 60 percent of her time.
“It's a huge motivation for a lot of kids,” she said. “It's where they get their sense of identity, and it's where a school gets its sense of pride and a lot of community and culture. Kids aren't interested in learning if they're not interested in being here.”
Jumping up and down with students at a football game or attending a school group performance helps Gough connect with students.
“Especially as the principal of a large high school, it's easy to become distant from kids,” she said. “You're not working with them every day in the classroom, so you have to be with them. You have to be out and about and visible at the activities.”
Gough is known for her frequent Twitter posts, and students flock to get into her pictures when they know she’ll be tweeting them out.
“I try to tweet out things that are positive about Riverton [HS],” she said. “I tweet them out; the kids see that I see them and that they matter and that they're important.”
During the graduation ceremony this year, Gough asked groups of students to stand and be recognized for accomplishments and participation in a variety of school activities and programs.
“My goal at graduation is to get every student on their feet as being recognized at graduation at least once,” she said. “I try to just recognize kids as much as I possibly can and the things that they do.”
Gough is an advocate for teachers as well. She has carves out time for them to collaborate on curriculum and to analyze student data together. She empowers teachers with professional development opportunities, and when teachers ask for support or supplies, Gough said she does everything she can to say yes.
“I am certain that the only reason I am still in the teaching profession is because I have had Carolyn Gough as my principal the last six years,” said Brown. “She motivates me to improve my teaching practice, content knowledge and student interaction in order to be the best teacher possible.”
The Huntsman Excellence in Education Award is given to 11 educators each year in recognition of their outstanding contributions to Utah’s public school system. Winners receive $10,000.
“The best thing about receiving an award like this is, even though I'm not a limelight-type of person, is that it is focusing on education,” said Gough. “It's a great opportunity to focus on the great things that do happen in education.”
While the work is hard and the hours are long, Gough said watching a student learn makes it worth it.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I'm passionate about it. I love education. I love kids. I couldn't think of a better job, truthfully.”