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The City Journals

New Edgemont Elementary principal loved school from day one

Jan 13, 2022 12:09PM ● By Julie Slama

First-year principal Elcena Saline, seen here ready to pass out popsicles when students met the principal, oversees Edgemont Elementary in its last year. (Photo courtesy of Elcena Saline/Edgemont Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Elcena Saline was younger, she looked forward to summer ending so school could begin.

“I loved all the school supplies and getting ready for school,” she recalls. “I loved all the activities, the engaging lessons, watching the teachers teach; it looked like so much fun. I wanted to be a teacher ever since first grade.”

Saline, who was named after her grandmother, grew up “in the sticks,” as she says. Her small Ohio town didn’t have a streetlight. There was no school, so she rode a school bus for about 20 miles from the Muskingum River, past Blue Rock State Forest and State Park to attend a Catholic school in Zanesville, an hour east of Columbus.  

In sixth grade, her family moved, and she attended public school in Utah, where she ditched her school uniform and got to pick out her own school clothes and also was in a more interactive classroom. She attended the now-defunct Cottonwood Heights Elementary, then thrived at Butler Middle and Brighton High, both now in Canyons School District.

After a brief thought of wanting to be a nurse—“I got squirted in my eye by a cow’s eye juice I was dissecting; the formaldehyde stunk; and although it was interesting, I didn’t enjoy the grossness and memorization”—she returned to her first love, of wanting to be a teacher.

Fast forward to this year, and the little girl who was excited to use her new school supplies now is using them as a first-time principal at Edgemont Elementary, which ironically is in its last year since the school will merge with Bell View Elementary next fall at Glacier Hills, the two-story elementary currently being built on the Edgemont campus.

While she won’t be principal at the new elementary, as one already has been appointed, Saline is willing to learn where she is, and apply the experiences and insights she gained while being an achievement coach for three years at Park Lane Elementary as well as when she worked under two different principals the past two years at Sandy Elementary.

That learning wasn’t just “how a school functions and people interact to yield the best student outcomes,” but also from former Edgemont Principal Michelle Snarr how to operate two grade schools side-by-side at the empty, former Crescent View Middle, sharing some facilities.

“I was excited, honored and really humbled to come here,” she said. “I learned so many wonderful things about Edgemont. My goal is to help students and teachers through a difficult year. Many schools here and across the country report that on top of all the challenges we face and embrace with COVID-19, we also have the complications of being in this building and being the last year of this cherished school for 63 years. I want to make sure the students are OK, the teachers are OK, we can have the best outcomes we can, and go out with fireworks, not in a fizzle.”

In the early months of this school year, Saline said it’s been a “great start as the teachers are fantastic and already are moving in a more normal routine” as the school transitioned to their temporary digs last spring. She said the routine was already established where they don’t cross paths much with Peruvian Park students, with even the gymnasium portioned to keep schools separate and cafeteria times staggered.

“We’re focused on supporting the kids with their social and emotional being, keeping them safe and feeling welcome so they have what they need to succeed,” she said.

Even in this environment, Edgemont will continue its traditions such as in December, the annual PTA book swap, where every student receives a book, and the holiday sing-along, although it may look different during the pandemic.

While Saline continues to learn the ropes of being a principal as her students learn in class, she reflects back. She earned her elementary education with a social studies emphasis from Utah State University then earned her master’s in elementary math and her English-as-a-Second Language endorsement at Southern Utah University while teaching at Oakdale Elementary. Saline also received her administrative/supervisory K-12 license and her certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 

It’s the years in the classroom which holds Saline to her core.

She remembers loving to teach ancient civilization and world history as well as teach about microorganisms along with heat, light and sound because they were “fascinating” and she recalls fifth-graders being her favorite to teach: “They’re learning to be independent thinkers. They’re becoming more engaged in their learning and in the world around them.”

And Saline remembers sharpening the No. 2 pencils in a town without a school building, waiting excitedly for her school days to begin.