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South Valley Journal

Administrator of the Year takes on cell phones and tardies

May 18, 2020 12:15PM ● By Jet Burnham

Donna Hunter, with her Utah Middle Level Administrator of the Year Award. (Vicki Wartman/OHMS)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

What does it take to be named Utah Middle Level Administrator of the Year? Being a great listener is key, said Oquirrh Hills Middle School Principal Donna Hunter, who recently won that title.

“I was nominated because I work with great people,” she said. “I like to listen to teachers. They're trained professionals, they're smart people, they know the kids, they know their subjects, they know the school, they know the community. Why wouldn't I listen to them?”

Hunter transferred to OHMS mid-year last year and immediately addressed teachers’ two biggest concerns: cell phones and tardies. She worked with teachers, administrators, parents and students to create new policies that have had a big impact on classroom learning. 

“If they're not in class, and they're not paying attention, we can't make them any smarter,” Hunter said. “Our job is to make them smarter, so that's what we want them to do.”

The cell phone policy is simple: No cell phones in any class, anytime, for any reason, period. Teachers are grateful to have unified policy at last.

“I have been teaching for eight years at OHMS, and each and every day was a battle with phones, until this one,” said science teacher Christopher Nichols.

Hunter said classrooms have become a better learning environment for all, and instances of cyber bullying have decreased.

“We have a lot more student engagement because they're not worried about what kind of messages are coming in on their phone because they don't have them during class periods,” Hunter said. “My teachers have been so on top of it.”

The stricter tardy policy encourages students to arrive to class on time and to value and respect their teachers’ time. Nichols said the administration’s new policies teach students to take responsibility for their learning.

“Their efforts have created a cultural shift at OHMS where learning is emphasized, and clear expectations for the entire school have been created to help all students succeed,” he said. “There is nothing more powerful than a student taking ownership of their education.”

Former OHMS assistant principal Audrey Fish praised the way Hunter encourages her staff’s individual growth and supports them in whatever they need to be successful.

“She gives teachers a lot of voice and choice, which I think is empowering,” said Fish, who was recently recognized as the Secondary School Assistant Principal of the Year for Utah and a top-three finalist for the national title.

Vicki Wartman, OHMS hall monitor, said Hunter is a proactive problem-solver who invests in both teacher and student growth.

“She is loyal to OHMS and wants students and teachers to grow and reach our goals,” Wartman said. “She is a champion for our middle school students. She clearly loves them and spends a large part of her day building relationships with them while maintaining structure within the building.”

The school closure, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, has been a heartbreaking adjustment for Hunter.

“The hardest thing is not being able to high-five kids in the hall,” she said. “I have 1,300 favorite children, and they're not around.”

Hunter continues to support her staff long distance.

“Our faculty meetings are on Zoom now,” she said. “We're trying to keep each other afloat. It’s hard on everybody trying to find the right balance of how much work we should expect from kids.”

Hunter said the OHMS faculty will continue to work together to make improvements in teacher and student growth.

 “We've got lots of other plans, and we are collectively committed to doing a fabulous job,” she said. “We are united as the faculty, and that's what I'm most proud of.”

Hunter feels honored to be nominated for her award because she loves her job.

“I put my heart and soul into this,” she said. “It's a great source of joy for me. To be recognized like that truly touched my heart.”