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West Jordan Journal

Principal Alger is at the heart of Heartland Elementary community

Feb 01, 2021 03:24PM ● By Jet Burnham

Principal Buddy Alger shows the Kindness Week bulletin board that encouraged students to be the “I” in kind. Students also painted rocks for a kindness garden outside and wrote thank-you letters to spread kindness. (Photo courtesy of Buddy Alger.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Heartland Elementary is the center of the community and Principal Buddy Alger is at the center of the school. Alger was named Community Leader of the Year by the Jordan Elementary School Principal Association.

“He's only been here two years, but he knows all the kids, and he knows their stories,” sixth grade teacher Amelia Paasi said. “He truly takes the time to ultimately do what's best for his community, whether that's the community of the teachers, the students or the community of West Jordan. He not only lives in the community, but he represents the community in a way that I haven't seen a principal do before.”

Alger loves being part of the Heartland community.

“Being the principal at Heartland feels like home to me—it just feels like it fits,” Alger said. “We're not just a school that teaches reading and math. We're a school that also provides for the diverse needs of the community.”

Heartland is a uniquely diverse community—12 different languages are spoken by students and their families.

“Being able to bring everybody together through communication and through excitement and trying to understand the different cultures and family members that are here has been awesome,” said Alger, who is fluent in Spanish and is learning Arabic.

Even though, due to public safety restrictions, the school cannot currently host adult education classes and family activities, it remains the hub of community activity.

“Our school playground is probably one of the best places in the area for kids to come and play after school,” Alger said. “Families come in all weekend long. It's busy with people having picnics in the field, and people playing on the playground and riding bikes on the blacktop that we definitely see ourselves as that community center.”

When school transitioned to online learning last spring, Alger visited students in their homes to make sure they had basic necessities. He added internet hotspots around the school and made sure each student had access.

“Our goal is to keep families engaged, and so we focus on that academic learning in the home environment,” Alger said. “We really try to focus on that collaboration between school and the community.”

For Family Week in December, activity supplies were sent home so families could engage in their student’s learning by playing a card game, making cookies and reading a new book together. During January’s Kindness Week, students learned about ways to serve others, inside and outside of school.

Paasi said these activities can strengthen the relationship between home and school, which is important when kids often spend more time with teachers than with their hardworking parents.

“It reminds the families of the importance of communication and how we work together—we're the village that helps raise the kids, and we each have our own part,“ Paasi said.

Alger is an involved principal, whether he’s welcoming students each morning, addressing student behaviors or encouraging academic growth.

“I read a piece of writing from each kid in our school once a month and have conferences with our upper grade students to really push their writing,” Alger said. “As a principal, it is the coolest thing to watch that progression.”

To further student growth, Alger rebranded the academic teaching standards into Promise Standards.

“We broke all of those standards down and created a list of promises that we would make to kids and their families that each kid would make it to mastery on that standard,” Alger said. “We promised kindergarteners that we wouldn't let them leave until they knew all of their letters and sounds. In sixth grade, we promise you, that you will know how to solve a ratio equation.”

First grade teacher Susan Call said there are nearly 72 standards for first graders to master.

“A promise standard really whittles an overwhelming task down to some critically important skills my students need to master in order to make them second grade ready,” Call said. “We are laser-focused on our teaching. We know where we're going ultimately and all the little steps to getting to that end. It helps me to know where my students are and what the next step is.”

Paasi said framing the standards as promises to her students helps her take an individualized, personal approach for all 44 students she teaches.

“I know them by name, and I know as much as I can about their families,” Paasi said. “I know about their wants and desires and their dislikes. And so it's not just the math promise standard or the science promise standard that I take into consideration. It's what I can do as a teacher to promise that I've done my all for them to be successful, so that they become what they want to become in their life.”

Alger said the promise standards have strengthened the learning community.

“It really has not only brought our teachers together as a community, but our students together as a community,” Alger said. “And hopefully it's going to bring the parents all the way in on the community, so that they can see the work that their students are doing and what they're expected to do each year and that we can make those promises and fulfill those commitments to our community.”

Alger takes every opportunity to recognize students for their academic achievements as well as rewarding their good behavior. So far this year, teachers and administrators have handed out more than 10,000 howlers (the school currency that students earn for good behavior and good citizenship, which can be cashed in for prizes.)

Alger also takes a positive approach to discipline, based on the 3 C's: care for self, care for others and care for your community. When a student is sent to his office for discipline, Alger helps them work through the problem by identifying how their action was not caring for themselves, for others or for the community.

“I help kids rebuild and restore our community that gets hurt when there's a fight or bullies on campus, which makes the whole campus feel unsafe,” he said. “We really work to rebuild community in a lot of our discipline.”

Alger hopes this approach instills in students the value of taking care of one’s community.

“Many of our kids are multigenerational students from poverty, and learning those things about caring for yourself, others and community is a big piece of that,” he said.

The 3 C’s are applied to academics, as well. Teachers help students care for self by doing their best work, care for others by providing meaningful feedback and care for the community by cleaning up after themselves.

Alger is grateful for a wonderful staff who has willingly incorporated his ideas into their practices. He calls them The Heartland Miracle Network.

“I think the biggest piece of being a principal is just enabling teachers to work their magic because they're incredible at what they do and we have the best at Heartland,” Alger said. “They're the ones that really put their nose to the grindstone and get in with the kids, each and every day, to make sure that we fulfill that vision. They're really my inspiration. I couldn't do it without them.”

Call said Alger is a supportive principal who is invested in his staff and students.

“I think he has reinvigorated the Heartland family,” Call said. “He's brought a lot of energy and can-do-it attitude to keep us moving forward.”

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