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Smoky Hill Principal Chuck Puga celebrated with surprise ceremony for CASE award

CASE Executive Director Bret Miles give Chuck Puga Principal of the Year award during a ceremony on Jan. 14. Chuck Puga insisted on giving proper credit to the entire Smoky Hill High School community.

As he accepted the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) 2020 Colorado High School Principal of the Year Award during a surprise ceremony held in the Smoky Hill cafeteria on Jan. 14, Puga was adamant about sharing the honor with his team. Puga, who started as principal at Smoky Hill in 2015, stressed the commitment, input and dedication of an entire cohort of teachers, administrators and students.

“This is about a collective,” Puga said. “There’s no way I could have won this award alone. This is about working together.”

That note of humility and generosity is as essential to Puga’s character as his unwavering commitment to students. The colleagues and students who spoke at Puga’s ceremony on Thursday spoke of a leader who always thinks of others and never hesitates to invest all of his efforts into ensuring success for everyone. They paid tribute to an administrator who’s never failed to help Smoky Hill navigate challenges, even during an unprecedented year of hurdles.

They painted the portrait of a leader who perfectly encapsulates the title of principal of the year.

“You’re very deserving of this award,” said Smoky Hill senior and Student Body President Elishevlyne Eliason, who joined fellow twelfth-grader and Student Body Vice President Manar Jeelani to pay tribute. “You have been integral in bringing a sense of normalcy to this year … You never fail to bring a sense of community to the school. Thank you and congratulations.”

The surprise award ceremony held on Jan. 14 was a long time coming. Puga officially won the award in March of 2020, beating about 1,100 CASE nominees for the honor. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Puga never received a formal recognition in the form of the traditional presentation. Thursday’s socially distanced celebration offered some overdue tribute, as students joined CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried, district leadership members and CASE Executive Director Bret Miles to formally offer Puga the plaque and the plaudits to go with his title.

“The thing that stood out in Principal Puga’s application was his commitment to diversity and his commitment to his students,” Miles said. “This ceremony was delayed because of COVID, but we wanted to make sure he received his award.”

Puga constantly brought the conversation back to Smoky Hill’s students as he spoke about receiving the award. His everyday work is about connecting every single student with excellence, he said, and the spoken tributes from Eliason and Jeelani meant just as much as the shiny plaque.

“That’s the payday for me, hearing from my students,” Puga said. “At Smoky Hill, we want to make sure that all of our students know that we care about them, especially after such a challenging year. They are more than just students; we’re committed to their whole development and we want to help them define their own futures.”

Posted 1/15/20 at 11:30 AM