Peterson retires after being principal since 1999
He says he loved every day he was there, but [education] is changing
By Linda Petersen
Nov. 16, 2017
MAYFIELD—As principal of Gunnison Valley Middle School, Alan Peterson thought he had a couple more good years in him before retirement. But fate had other plans. While working on his roof Aug. 10, Peterson took a bad fall and broke what he said were “many” bones.
While his recovery has been going “extraordinarily well,” it has been slow, he said. Peterson said he underestimated the time it would take him to recover, and at first planned to return to school, but after two months it became clear this would be a much longer process. In early October, Peterson reluctantly tendered his resignation to School Superintendent Kent Larsen.
This year would have marked the 35th year in education for Peterson who took a rather circuitous path to his final vocation. Born and raised in Sterling, Peterson attended Manti Elementary, Ephraim Jr. High and Manti High schools.
“Those were great years. I had extremely wonderful teachers, but I never thought I would end up in education. It never once entered my mind that I might someday become a teacher,” he said.
After a year at Snow College, he spent some time in the Navy (“too long,” he said). Then he found work in Salt Lake City. After a few years, he married his wife Evelyn, and they moved back to Sanpete County where he worked various jobs.
Within a few years, he decided to take advantage of the G.I. bill and go back and finish his education. So he and Evelyn loaded up their two kids in the car and headed to Southern Utah State College in Cedar City where he got a bachelor’s of art in education. He taught at Gunnison Elementary for a year and another eight years at Moroni Elementary before he decided he needed more education. So he went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and got his master’s degree at Southern Mississippi.
“It was a great experience. I’ve always been a history buff, so I loved being in the South with all the historic sites and the culture,” he said.
Still, home called to him, and after graduation, he returned to Sanpete and began teaching at Gunnison Elementary. After a few years, Peterson took a sabbatical to, as he put it, “go work with some Japanese people for a couple of years.”
“It was an opportunity to do something different. I met some interesting people and traveled a lot. It was very good,” he said.
But again, education called to him. So, he returned and taught at Gunnison High School and later became an assistant principal to Principal Don Hill.
In 1999, Peterson became the first principal of the newly-rebuilt Gunnison Valley High School.
Peterson said he adopted his own education philosophy from Francis Black, a principal he worked with back in the early 1980s.
“He told me, ‘The key to having a good school is to hire the best teachers and to stay the hell out of their way.’ It’s a philosophy I’ve tried to live by the entire time I was a principal.”
Peterson had high praise for the teachers and staff he has worked with over the years, both those who are not far away from retirement themselves and the newer generation of teachers. Most he remembered by name.
“The middle school is in good hands,” Peterson said.
Although his time in education has been a very positive thing, Peterson said he has seen some changes creep in that leave him sad and worried for future generations.
“I loved every day I was there, but it’s changing. It’s kind of a reflection of our society. Look at the leadership we have at the national level, the lack of good models people have. The same kind of stuff is reflected in what teachers encounter in the classroom. There’s a lack of respect and it seems to increase a little every year.”
“That kind of climate doesn’t allow for shirkers,” said Peterson. The young teachers of today are “extremely dedicated, professional people” who work really hard and are totally committed to their jobs, he added.
Peterson praised Jeff Bartholomew who has taken over as principal at the school.
“I’ve known Jeff since he was a young kid. I was the one who brought him down from Ephraim Middle School. He’s a very personable young fellow. The kids really gravitate toward him,” he said.
Somewhat unusually, all four of Peterson’s sons followed him into education.
“Dad has always been a big proponent of education and its purpose in our democracy and our society. I just wanted to follow him,” said son Aaron Peterson who is South Sanpete School District’s special education director. “He has been one of the greatest inspirations to me, and I’m very, very lucky to call him my father.”
It’s something that has dismayed his father, nevertheless.
“I thought originally it was a genetic defect, but now I see that the lifestyle we enjoyed, where we could devote so much time to our family, may have had some bearing on their decisions,” he said.
Peterson said he doesn’t envy his children who are currently in the education field and hopes all of his 12 grandchildren choose another career path.
“As I watch the attacks on education in Utah and clear across the country, I see people who just have a strong, vested interest in money… When you have a Secretary of Education who doesn’t know basic geography—it’s a sad thing for a nation to be led by people who are so unqualified. I hope my sons can endure to the end,” he said.
Throughout all the changes along his career path, Peterson says it was his wife Evelyn who made it all possible. “I give her all the credit. Nothing would have happened without her. During this whole thing, Evelyn worked to support us while I was at school, kept the family going while I was gone, and was beside me all the way.”
As for the future, Peterson said he’s not ready “to start laying out in the cemetery anytime soon.”
Instead, he said that he sees this change as the turning of a page, the opportunity to start something new. He has some things he’d like to do, but more than anything, he wants to spend as much time as possible with his grandchildren.
“If I never left Manti and never saw Provo or Salt Lake, that would be fine as long as I get to spend time with them,” he said.