If 16-year-old Ken Auld could see who he is now, the principal at Logan High School, he would have never believed it.
“I would have looked at you and said, ‘There’s no way, I’m not smart enough to be a principal, I’m not smart enough to work at a school,’” Auld said. “‘I don’t do good at math, I don’t do good at writing.’”
Auld grew up in Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle.
“I was raised by a single mom, we were poor. I never went to the same school two years in a row, we moved a lot,” he said. “That’s what my mom had to do to take care of us.”
Seated at a plastic table in the Logan High conference room converted into a temporarily office while his permanent office is being renovated — just like the rest of the school for the year that Auld has been there — he said he was insecure as a student. At one school he attended, he recalled being one of three black students. He said he faced racism growing up and didn’t feel very smart.
During Auld’s senior year, his history teacher enforced those insecurities when he went around the room and predicted what each student would end up doing.
“When he got to me, he said, ‘Your best chance for success is to work in a factory and move your way up, or join the military and move your way up, you’ll never make it in college,’” Auld said.
He said that came as a devastating blow. He channeled his motivation to prove the teacher wrong through sports.
After graduating from high school, Auld played basketball at Everett Community College and then moved to Orem and played basketball at Utah Valley State College. He said he wasn’t sure if he could handle college courses, but he quickly found his greatest strength was his social skills.
He said he would go to class and scan for the three smartest people, make friends and study with them. Then he started to realize he could succeed.
“It was those type of people that gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and then I became, over time, that person where I would go, ‘Hey man, why don’t you come study with us,’” he said.
Fresh out of college, Auld worked in juvenile corrections for 15 years. He worked at Wasatch Youth Center, Weber Valley Detention Center and group homes with at-risk kids from troubled families, some of whom had committed serious crimes.
He got to know them, learned about their hardships and perceived them in a different way.
He said he wanted to break the cycle so at-risk students could have continued success and saw education as a path where he could make a difference.
“When I got into education, I never wanted another kid to feel like they were dumb, they weren’t smart, that they couldn’t get support, that they couldn’t get help,” Auld said. “I always wanted kids to feel like they could be successful.”
His first job in education was as a special education teacher at Bonneville Junior High in Salt Lake City, where he worked with emotionally disturbed students with behavior disorders for three years. Then he became an intern assistant principal at Eisenhower Junior High.
There, he said he worked with kids who act out, misbehave and don’t want to be in school.
Throughout that time, he said his dream job was to work at a west side high school with the challenges of poverty. With experience in corrections, his skillset was targeted on dealing with young people involved in gangs.
Auld then accepted a job as assistant principal at Kearns High School, where he received the Community Citizen Service Award from the Salt Lake Unified Police Department for his role in promoting a safe environment. Then he moved on to an assistant principal position at Hunter High School.
“I absolutely loved working at Kearns High School and Hunter High School and being in those communities,” Auld said. “And I honestly thought my whole career I would end up being a principal on the west side.”
Auld applied for several principal positions in the Granite and Salt Lake City school district and was unsuccessful. Then, a colleague told him about Logan City School District.
“I was like, ‘Logan in the mountains Logan?’” Auld said.
He did some research and found out that 40 percent of the Logan High population was diverse. He contacted Superintendent Frank Schofield and asked a lot of questions about the high school and the school district’s focus.
“He struck me as very thoughtful and insightful,” Schofield said, thinking back on their first interaction. “And really wanting to understand what makes Logan a positive place to be and what are the things that we envisioned for the school moving forward.”
Schofield said he saw benefits to hiring an outsider to Cache Valley. He said Auld’s variety of experiences gave him a broad understand of different approaches of what works in schools.
“You’re much less likely to slip into the, ‘Well, this is the only way to do something,’” Schofield said. “Because you’ve been in enough setting where you’ve seen people be successful using multiple approaches.”
At the time, Auld said he didn’t think he would get the position, but, of course, he did. When the school year started last year, he was surprised by the students’ behavior.
“The thing that shocked me the most is just how good the kids were,” Auld said. “You walk down the hall and you say, ‘Hey, good morning,’ and they say, ‘Good morning principal.’”
Auld said he loves the small community aspect of Logan and the genuine connection to the high school. But the job came with challenges. He commutes from West Jordan, a nearly three-hour round trip.
“It’s far and he usually beats me here in the mornings,” Logan High Administrative Assistant Stephanie Olsen said. “We keep telling him they need to move up here.”
Auld said his wife loves her job at Granger High School in West Valley City, where she works as a behavior health assistant. He said he asking her to quit her job and move to Logan would be unfair.
His wife’s parents are in their 90s and most of her family lives within a 15 minute drive from their home, so it would be a tough change to move away from those ties.
But for now, he will do what he has to do to care of his family.
Throughout his entire first year at Logan High, the school has been under construction. It created problems for some teachers and students, but Auld said there were very few complaints. Now that the work is nearly complete, he said he’s excited to start the school year in a cutting-edge building built with collaborative pods and 400 students in the new Innovations program, modeled after Innovations High School in Salt Lake City.
But one challenge that high schools around the state will face this coming school year is the restorative justice program created through HB 239.
The long list of amendments in HB 239 shifts the burden from local law enforcement to schools on cases like truancy, law breaking and bad behavior. Instead of standing before a judge, students who are truant would instead have to sit in front of administrators who don’t have the same authority as law enforcement officers.
“I understand that they don’t want kids getting locked up for being truant, I get that … the problem with that is that kids who don’t go to school don’t graduate,” Auld said.
One of the big problems with HB 239 is that no one really knows how it will work yet. Schofield said he met with state representatives on Friday morning and there still hasn’t been a lot of clarity regarding what they want the restorative justice model to look like.
LCSD recently hired a Logan High Assistant Principal, Roxanne Sharr, who has experience in her previous school district with restorative justice, so Schofield and Auld said they hope Sharr can help them figure out a model.
Besides the challenges ahead, Schofield said Auld has demonstrated a “laser focus” on helping students succeed in his first year at Logan High. With his experience in corrections and in schools with high-poverty, Schofield said Auld has a great skill set that helps him deal with stressful situations.
Olsen, Auld’s administrative assistance, has worked at Logan High for 16 years under five different principals. When asked if there is anything different about Auld, she looked away with a warm smile.
“He believes in being fair and equitable, he uses that word a lot,” Olsen said. “And I don’t think it matters who you are or what you do, he’ll treat you the same. He treats everybody the same way.”