Bruce Eschler could’ve been speaking for all five of Canyons District’s first-time principals with an admission he made leading up to the 2021-22 school year. “It’s exciting,” Eschler said of his new position, “but I’m experiencing all the emotions right now.”
If it makes the new Jordan High principal feel better, the District’s four other first-time principals — Michelle Shimmin, who leads Canyons Online; Elcena Saline, the new principal at Edgemont Elementary; Bryan Rudes, who has assumed the top spot at East Sandy Elementary; and Doug Hallenbeck, who has taken the reins at Canyons Technical Education Center — feel the same way as they embark on their new journeys as instructional leaders for their school communities.
Though rookies in this position, this group of first-time principals brings decades of combined educational experience to their schools. They also share a strong desire to help their students, staff and faculty members thrive, even during years when public-health issues still are at the forefront of concern in communities.
Laughs were shared when Eschler showed up to Corner Canyons High all decked out in Jordan High gear at a recent party for the District’s newly hired teachers and other licensed personnel. Eschler spent the past six years at CCHS as an assistant principal and will have a soft spot in his heart for the Draper school — but he’s understandably switched allegiances.
“I’m a Beetdigger now so I’ve got to rep Jordan,” he says.
Learning the traditions of a school that’s been around for almost a century — in different buildings, of course — is one fun part of his new position. He’s also dealing with a learning curve being the lead administrator. It helps to be surrounded by an experienced staff at JHS.
“I’m fortunate that I’m really the only new person,” Eschler said. “I love learning in general, and there’s a lot to learn this year. … I’m 24/7 thinking about Jordan High.’
This is Eschler’s 17th year in education. He didn’t set out to be a principal but eventually decided to take required courses, obtained his administrator’s certificate and earned a doctorate in educational leadership.
Prior to CCHS, Eschler taught in Murray for 10 years. He credits one of his 10th-grade teachers for helping him see opportunities and untapped potential. He’s grateful to pay forward that type of advocacy for his students decades later.
“I always come back to that. I have a picture of her in my office,” he said. “That’s my role is to be an advocate. That’s my why — to help take that advocacy and find opportunities for students.”
For students who know what they want, he hopes to introduce them to courses and opportunities that will help them achieve their goals. For uncertain students — like Eschler the sophomore from years ago — he aims to spark their interest in existing programs and to discover their potential.
“You’re your students’ biggest cheerleader and your teachers’ biggest cheerleader,” Eschler said. “I love everything about school — from students, teachers and staff.”
CTEC’s Hallenbeck got off to a running start in his new position. While other schools took the summer off, 60 students participated in the year-round cosmetology program at the Canyons Technical Education Center.
“It’s been an exciting summer with kids here on campus,” Hallenbeck said. “I really enjoy working with staff and feeling their energy. It’s always something as an administrator that I’ve always fed off of and find it’s exhilarating.”
Hallenbeck’s previous educational stints include teaching technology and engineering at middle school, serving as an assistant principal in middle schools for 15 years and working as a CTE coordinator at West Jordan High. This is his second year at CTEC, which provides hands-on learning experiences in various career fields. He was an assistant principal in 2020-21.
Being named principal at this particular high school is a dream come true
“I always knew that I wanted to do CTE (Career and Technical Education) administration,” he said. “The tech center is a great place to be able to do that.”
Over the course of a school year, 850 students will study at CTEC where they’ll learn skills and gain experience in medical, computer, industrial, and mechanical fields, among others. Students learn from non-traditional teachers who are highly trained experts and industry professionals. Some get chances to participate in insightful internships.
Hallenbeck also hopes to smoothly navigate students through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to be able to create some normalcy in our students’ lives,” Hallenbeck said. “CTEC is such a unique place to come where students have made early choices towards their careers. I am just excited to see them be successful in their chosen area. That’s what brings me joy and happiness.”
When Rudes looked for a college to attend, he was lured to northern Utah from upstate New York because of the slopes. He was a teenager who loved to ski, and Utah State University proved to be the perfect fit for him. Logan offered his preferred program in education and gave him easy access to being able to ski the hyped Greatest Snow on Earth.
Utah also turned out to be a good spot for Rudes’ career. His path to becoming a principal — something he’s been pursuing for years —
included teaching (engineering and technology) and administrator roles in high school and middle school. Rudes spent the past five years in Midvale Middle’s administration.
“I’m very excited. I’ve been working towards this for a while,” Rudes said of being named principal at East Sandy. “I’m excited for elementary school. It rounds out my educational experience.”
Now that his first year as a principal is underway, Rudes embraces the opportunity to help provide “good learning experiences” for the wide-eyed kindergartners up to the maturing fifth-graders.
Helping people, especially younger ones, motivates Rudes.
“I just love people and love working with people,” he said. “It (becoming a principal) gave me the opportunity to expand that.”
And it took no time at all for him to fall in love with the students, school, staff and faculty at his new school. One of the reasons: He’s a Sandy resident — and he cherishes the opportunity to work in his own community. His enthusiasm for the job has only increased since the 2021-22 school year started in earnest.
“I am excited to be here at East Sandy and to be part of the Mustang community.”
When Elcena Saline was involved in school coaching earlier in her career, a principal recommended she think about becoming an administrator. When Saline thought about the impact administrators have on children and their educational experience, she decided to follow her mentor’s inspiration and advice.
“I got my administrator’s license and really just fell in love with it,” she said. “I love the complexities and intricacies of each school. I’m still very passionate about making sure school is an equitable place for all learners.”
Giving every student a robust educational experience is a priority. Saline insists that all children are accommodated and that their experiences, backgrounds and cultures are honored.
“I really make sure they are welcome and make sure every student is given what they need to succeed and that we just never stop helping a kid succeed,” Saline said. “I want to feel confident that when kids move to their next school and experience that we’ve done everything we can to help them progress and reach their potential.”
Saline is in an interesting position with Edgemont. This will be her first and last year as the school’s principal. In fact, the Edgemont building has been torn down and construction is underway on its replacement, Glacier Hills Elementary (which will also take students from Bell View). Edgemont students are attending Crescent until their new school is ready.
“I’m just making sure that students are getting everything they need while I get acclimated to my role,” Saline said. “It’s also really important to me that my teachers know and my communities know that I am fully committed. I don’t consider myself a bridge or sub. I consider myself fully part of the Edgemont community while I’m here.”
Saline began her career as a sixth-grade teacher in Phoenix, Ariz. She then relocated to Utah and taught at Oakdale Elementary for eight years. Her next role was as an Achievement Coach at Park Lane Elementary, followed by a two-year stint as an assistant principal at East Sandy Elementary.
On a personal note, the Brighton High alumna turns her attention to her 5-month-old son when she comes home. “I’m fortunate that I love my job,” she said. “Doing my job and working hard every day helps me be a better mom.”
Michelle Shimmin isn’t just starting at a new school. She’s starting a new school — one that caters to motivated students who are eager to learn online at their own pace, in their own place, and on their own schedule.
“It is exciting. Honestly, that is my very first emotion that I wouldn’t identify is excitement,” Shimmin said of spearheading the fledgling Canyons Online program. “It’s something I’ve wanted — an online option, a teacher-engaged option rather than an independent option.”
Shimmin has felt the weight of creating a new system and helping students and their families enroll, prepare and begin the District’s new remote learning option for kids at all grade levels. As in life, Plan A doesn’t always work out as envisioned so she’s had to be resilient and adapt to new circumstances, such as the mid-summer decision to add classes for K-2 students. Along with satisfying, her labor of love can feel overwhelming at times.
“I feel like I’m getting a baptism by fire,” she said.
Shimmin’s career trek began at Crescent View Middle School. She was then an English teacher, debate coach, student government adviser and new teacher mentor at Hillcrest High. She also garnered years of experience as an Education Technology coach and specialist in the Canyons District.
Shimmin finds value in encouraging and training teachers, and being there for parents.
“Sometimes they just need a listening ear,” she said. “I have to be available for parents for that — and for students.”
Shimmin has modeled admirable administrators’ problem-solving behaviors and has leaned on them for help, from getting tips on schedule-making to crafting various letters.
“They’ve taken me under their wings,” she said. “I have a strong support system in this district.”
It’s a united front with one goal in mind: supporting students as they get college- and career-ready.
“As a principal your time is your students,” she said. “They’re your number one.”.