Central Utah Correctional
Facility principal named as
American Graduate Champion
By Linda Petersen
Oct. 26, 2017
GUNNISON—Unlike many principals who often hear the gratitude of grateful parents and students, Central Utah Academy Principal Mark Hugentobler generally goes unthanked and his praises unsung. However, it’s something he’s just not worried about. Perhaps that’s why when notified that he had been recently recognized as an American Graduate Champion by the Utah Education Network, he just took it in stride.
“It’s nice to get an award like this, but the people who deserve the recognition are my staff and also the many volunteers who make this program what it is,” he said. If this award has any meaning, it’s a recognition of the staff and people who work so hard to make a difference to people who want to change.”
As principal of a program that serves the prison population at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, Hugentobler has an unusual student body. In the high school program he currently has 762 participants—a tremendous increase from when the program began eight Years ago and started out with just 200 students. Hugentobler said at first prison officials were skeptical of the program, but now, having seen its value, they’re very supportive.
“We’ve created a positive relationship with Corrections. The program is now an integral part of prison. It’s amazing how many of the inmates take advantage of our program once they realize it’s not going to kill them.”
Along with the high school program, there are 282 inmates participating in the UPREP post-secondary program. UPREP partners with Snow College Salt Lake Community College and Weber State and other university programs (such as Stanford University’s online software) to provide college-level classes to inmates. Through UPREP, they are taught a trade and skills that will hopefully help them break the cycle after they leave prison.
Hugentobler said the UPREP program is mostly unfunded and is largely run by inmate volunteers who want to help provide an education to their peers. And if they see a need for a class that isn’t offered they create their own, like the new computer coding boot camp they are now offering.
“Our goal is to provide opportunities for these guys who really are the lost boys—people nobody knows about or cares about,” Hugentobler said, “The only chance they have of success, of staying out of prison, is through learning.
This unusual principal says the IQ of his students and their abilities are no different than the general population.
Through our programs, students have hope to learn an occupation that’s honorable. Without hope you don’t have much. Here, they have a chance to change what they do,” he said.
Hugentobler was a coach at Manti High School for many years before accepting his current position, and says he really enjoyed it. When he first joined Central Utah Academy which is run by South Sanpete School District he thought he would spend a couple of years there and leave but now, “It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career,” he said. “This is amazing to watch. There’s just a huge need here. The response is so overwhelming.”
Hugentobler says the reason his programs work can be attributed to the passion his staff and the inmate volunteers have for the job. Take reading teacher Liza Jensen for example. Jensen teaches reading to 25 students at a time for six hours a day. Many of her students were unable to read when they began but all are now reading at least at a fifth grade level and many are exceeding that.
Hugentobler said all of his staff is like that, passionate about their work and making a difference in the lives of the students.
“We don’t keep much in the way of statistics but I can personally tell you story after story of people who came into the program with a criminal mind and after they are done with the program think differently. Their whole perception of life changes because they’re not ‘stupid’ anymore,” Hugentobler said. “The real success is how many guys don’t come back to prison.”
Hugentobler was one of 14 educators chosen by the UEN as American Graduate Champions. They were honored Oct. 12 at the The UtahFutures Celebrates Stories of Champions Dinner at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.