When Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater revealed which shows would be staged in the coming year, the voices of Hillcrest High students belting “You Will Be Found” from the Tony Award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen” were a pitch-perfect part of the publicity blitz.

Videographers were at Hillcrest on Monday to film students in the vaunted drama program perform the song from the popular show, which will attract crowds March 4-14. Clips of the student’s performance, done in the school’s auditorium, will be used by the theater to promote the show and six others that are coming for the 2019-2020 season.

Along with “Dear Evan Hansen,” Broadway at the Eccles will mount such box-office draws as “Frozen,” “Miss Saigon,” “A Christmas Story,” “Anastasia,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The lineup was rolled out on Friday, March 22 — the same day that theatergoers could renew their season tickets. The Hillcrest students who performed the “Dear Evan Hansen” song on Monday said they hoped to snap up the expected-to-be-scarce tickets to the show that resonates with audiences of all ages but has proven particular popular with teenagers. 

Hillcrest drama teacher Josh Long said his students were given less than a week to learn the song before the filming. It was particularly hectic, Long said, because rehearsals had to be scheduled around planned choir performances and the school’s March 14-16 production of “Akhnaton,” which was the first time the Agatha Christie play had been performed in Utah.

Long said his students were asked to do the performance after Eccles Theater officials saw  — and were impressed with — Hillcrest’s performance at last year’s Utah High School Musical Theater Awards at which the school won Best Musical for “Les Miserables.” The show’s star, Bennett Chew, also won the Best Actor for his portrayal of Jean Valjean

As part of the Monday rehearsal, Long said, the students were able to Skype with a New York-based director who gave them tips on how to perform the song for the cameras.  

Standing between seats in the auditorium where she’s made millions of memories during musicals and plays, senior Megan Wheat said it was thrilling to receive tips from entertainment-industry insiders who work with some of the country’s top stage talents. Among the notes:  Students were encouraged to find balance between the acting and singing — and to err on the side of performing with emotion and intent rather than a rote recitation of words to the song. 

Senior Ian Williams, who was cast as Link Larkin on Hillcrest’s fall production of “Hairspray,” said the experience helped cap his last few months at the school before graduation. 

“That was one of the coolest things I have been able to do,” Williams said after the filming wrapped Monday morning. “This is kind of something you hope for, but you don’t ever know if you’ll ever be able to do it.”
Board Approves Midvalley Elementary Reconstruction Budget

The Board of Education voted to awarded the contract for the reconstruction of Midvalley Elementary to Bud Mahas Construction in an amount not to exceed $21,242,000. The rebuild of Midvalley was one of the projects promised to the public at the November 2017 passage of a tax-rate-neutral $283 million bond. A groundbreaking ceremony has been planned for April 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the school, 217 E. 7800 South. 

Update on 2019 Legislative Session

The Board of Education received a report on the 2019 General Session of the Utah Legislature. External Affairs Director Charlie Evans and Public Engagement Coordinator Susan Edwards updated the Board on education-related bills that may impact the operations or funding of Canyons District. The legislature, which ended at midnight on March 14, approved a 4 percent increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit and $33.8 million for the Teacher and Student Success Act, which requires the Utah State Board of Education to provide rules and Local Education Authorities to provide the framework for the program. Principals, in conjunction with the School Community Council and local stakeholders, would develop and implement the school’s TSSA plan. More money also was allocated to aid mental health, suicide prevention, and at-risk education efforts, and more fully fund transportation, among other items. The legislature also redefined school fees, requiring all fee charges to be listed on a Board-approved fee schedule. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, textbook fees also only can be charged for Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment courses. A newly passed Senate bill also could require the Canyons Education Foundation Board to participate in state training and be subject to Utah’s Open Meetings Act, and a House Bill updates requirements for school-water testing, which CSD already does. HB375 exempts pre-school teachers from additional background checks beyond the BCI done by the CSD Human Resources Department. A school-safety related bill would require SCCs to have an annual conversation about school safety, and another would fund the creation of a state job that would advise LEAs on security. 

Administrator Evaluations Results

Ninety-seven percent of Canyons District licensed administrators evaluated with the Canyons Leadership and Administrator Support System (CLASS) were rated as highly effective or effective, according to a report given to the Board of Education. The performance tool takes into consideration the achievement of year-long goals and a self-assessment, the demonstration of ethical and high-quality leadership skills, the administrator’s comprehensive plan to improve her or his school, and results of a stakeholder-input survey.  

Changes Suggested for Secondary Parent-Teacher Conferences

A committee tasked with reviewing the efficacy of Parent-Teacher Conferences in Canyons District’s secondary schools is proposing changes to the format to encourage more parent participation, which ranges from 15 percent to 63 percent at Canyons’ middle and high schools. The committee recommends using the 16 hours allotted in the academic calendar for Parent-Teacher Conferences for other events to bring teachers, students, and parents together at the school. For example, the committee suggested using up to three hours on an August Freshman Orientation, in the form of an Open House or a Back-to-School Night. They also suggest holding a noon to 8 p.m. fall-time Parent-Teacher Conference with the first two hours set aside for appointments and the remaining six hours for individual meetings and tutorials with parents about the programs and initiatives at the school and how to use online systems such as Skyward and Canvas. Other ideas include holding a two-hour January Orientation to aid in the registration process and a three-hour third-quarter “reach out” to parents of struggling students. They also urge the District to schedule elementary and secondary Parent-Teacher Conferences on separate weeks. The committee included at least one parent, teacher, and principal from Alta, Jordan, and Butler and Union middle schools, plus Instructional Support Administrator Jesse Henefer, UniServ’s Jennifer Boehme, and Canyons Education Association President Erika Bradshaw. The chairs are School Performance Director Mike Sirois and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle. A working group will continue to review the issue.

Long-Range Planning Committee Proposal

Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe is proposing to form a committee that would review enrollment projections, academic program growth and demand, local municipal residential and business growth trends, and school-capacity data to inform decisions regarding future programmatic plans or construction or boundary proposals. 

Executive Session

The Board of Education voted to enter into a closed session for the purpose of discussing collective bargaining; the purchase, exchange or lease of real property; pending or reasonably imminent litigation. 


The following students, faculty and staff were recognized for their achievements: 
  • Corner Canyon High’s boys basketball team, the 5A state champions
  • Corner Canyon High girls hoops standout Kemery Martin, Utah’s girls basketball Gatorade Player of the Year
  • Education Technology Specialist Kelly DuMont, International Society for Technology in Education, Making IT Happen Award
  • Brighton High’s Model United Nations team, first-place distinguished delegation in Research and Preparation, National Model UN competition in New York City

Pledge of Allegiance, Reverence

The flags of the United State of America and the state of Utah were posted by Midvale Elementary students. Midvale Assistant Principal Jeri Rigby, who delivered the inspirational thought, also told the Board that Midvale’s faculty and staff is grateful to work with some 800 students at the school. She said the work isn’t always easy at the Title I school that is on turnaround status — but it’s always worth it. She said teachers forge strong relationships with students, are dedicated to helping students achieve their academic goals, and seek to improve instructional practices. She said the students at Midvale also are committed to “stepping up” to learn and grow, even with familial and socio-economic challenges.  She thanked the Board for supporting and believing in the Midvale school community. 

Student Advisory Council

The Board of Education expressed appreciation to the members of the 2018-2019 Student Advisory Council, made up of representatives from all five of Canyons traditional high schools.  Three members of the council — Alta’s Noah Ogden, Corner Canyon’s Luke Warnock and Jordan’s Michael Manhard — also reported on what they learned throughout the year. This is the sixth council empaneled to advise the Board of Education on proposals that would affect students. The council, which meets regularly to discuss education-related issues and provide leadership training, is advised by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bob Dowdle. 

Consent Agenda

The Board of Education approved the Consent Agenda, which includes the minutes of the Board meeting on March 5, 2019; hire and termination reports; purchasing bids; student overnight travel; and February Financial Reports. 

Student Fees

The Board of Education is considering new rules governing how students are assessed fees. The current proposal, borne out of legislation and in response an audit that scrutinized how Utah school districts assessed fees, states that all fees would be subject to waiver and that all textbook fees, except for Advanced Placement and Concurrent Enrollment courses, would no longer be allowed. Also included in the proposal: Group fund-raising by groups would be allowed, but students would not be required to participate in the fund-raising, and students who do not raise money could not be denied participation in the event or opportunity. There also would be a maximum fee per activity and a maximum annual aggregate fee per student. The Board will continue to review proposals from the Administration. An addition to the policy manual also is being considered that would stipulate that CSD’s fee policies “shall be designed to limit student expenditures for school-sponsored activities, including expenditures for activities, uniforms, clubs, clinics, travel and subject area and vocational leadership organizations, whether local, state or national.” The Board asked the Administration to solicit feedback from School Community Councils. 

Cell Phone Tower Proposal

Cingular Wireless seeks approval from the Board of Education to lease a space for a cell-tower on a light pole at the Corner Canyon High Stadium. T-Mobile and Verizon share a tower on an adjacent pole at the stadium. The Corner Canyon School Community Council unanimously approved the proposal from Cingular Wireless.  The Board of Education will continue to review the proposal. 

Public Comment

School Program Counseling Specialist Tori Gillett encouraged the Board to increase the counselor-to-student ratios in Canyons District.

Parent and Indian Hills Middle counselor Melissa Jones asked the Board to fund more secondary-school counselors.

Mount Jordan Middle counselor Jacey Wickham urged the Board to fund additional counselors to service students.

Union Middle counselor Lynn Nelson told the Board the school has 420 students to one counselor, which makes it difficult to meet the needs of all students. She urged the Board to fund more counselors, especially for the sixth-grade students. 

Eastmont Middle counselor Julie Taucher gave insight to counseling sixth-grade students and urged the Board to fund more counselors in the middle schools.

Albion Middle counselor Tracy Morris said her school has seen an influx of students seeking social-emotional supports. She encouraged the Board to fund counselors at a ratio of 350 to one student. 

Brighton High counselor Amy Mena encouraged the Board to fund more counselors.

Butler Middle counselor Carolann Heindel asked the Board to fund more school counselors, especially with the increase in anxiety and other social-emotional learning challenges. 

Draper Park Middle counselor Megan Gebhard also asked the Board to fund more counselors. 

Corner Canyon High counselors Misty Jolley and Dina Kohler spoke in favor of increasing the number of counselors in schools, particularly as mental-health issues increase in the schools.

Superintendent and Business Administrator Reports

Superintendent Dr. Briscoe congratulated Canyons’ finance team for receiving a Certificate in Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of School Business Officials International.  The honor is given to districts that uphold the highest standards for financial reporting and accountability as exemplified by their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).  Canyons has earned the award every year it has been a District.

Business Administrator Leon Wilcox said an intensive review of CSD’s School Nutrition Program came back with positive marks for Nutrition Services Director Sebasthian Varas and his team.

Board of Education Reports  

Ms. Clareen Arnold thanked Canyons District’s teachers and staff for their hard work. 

Mr. Steve Wrigley encouraged more participation in the annual Alta High colloquium that attracts such high-profile and best-selling authors as Donald L. Miller, who spoke last Saturday at Alta.

Ms. Amber Shill commended Wilcox and his team for working hard to receive the financial-reporting award, thanked patrons for attending the Town Hall meeting she held with President Tingey, and expressed appreciation for the counselors who expressed their viewpoints during the Patron Comment section of the Board meeting.

Mr.  Mont Millerberg thanked the members of the Student Advisory Council for their service, and his fellow members of the Board for the vote to approve the construction budget for Midvalley Elementary. He also reported on attending a Reality Town.

President Nancy Tingey congratulated Wilcox and the District’s business team for their award from ASBO, and noted the hard work and expertise of the External Affairs Department, which represented Canyons during the 2019 General Session of the Utah Legislature.
Is it in the DNA? Or is it just a lot of hard work? Perhaps it's a mix of both for Canyons District’s Cheng family, who can now boast two General Scholar winners at the annual Sterling Scholar competition.

On Friday, March 15, 2019, Alexander Cheng, a senior at Hillcrest who has been accepted to Stanford, was named the winner of the Science category before being announced as the overall winner of the 57th annual competition that singles out the best and brightest in the state.

In 2016, Alexander’s brother, Anthony, also was given the top award in the prestigious competition sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL-TV. For his achievements in the prestigious competition, Alexander Cheng ended the night with a $2,500 check as the Science Sterling Scholar and an additional $2,500 for being named General Scholar. 

This is just the latest in a string of big accomplishments for Alexander Cheng, the top student in Hillcrest’s Class of 2019 and one of 80 students worldwide selected to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Science Institute.

Cheng was recently selected as a Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar and a regional finalist in the national Coca-Cola scholarship. Last week, he also learned he won first place in the Materials and Biomedical category at the University of Utah’s Science and Engineering Fair for his entry, “Determining the Role of Microvascular Pathology as Reflected by Changes in Primary and Secondary Retinal Vessels in the Pathophysiology of Diabetic Complications.” 

"It's truly an honor to even be here so I'm truly blessed to have won and to be recognized. I'm so grateful, especially to my parents for all of their support and help,” Alexander Cheng told the Deseret News.  “I think they're really crucial. My brother actually won General Sterling Scholar three years ago. It just goes to show the dedication and the influence they've had on us so I really thank my parents.” 

In the 2019 Sterling Scholar competition, 13 students from Canyons District high schools advanced to the final round of competition in 14 categories.  Seven of those students were named runners up in their respective categories. 

From Alta High, Christian Affleck was a runner-up in the Vocal Performance category and Avery Gunnel was one of the top three students in the Instrumental Music category.  Brighton High’s Caroline Jarman was a runner-up in Computer Technology, and Hillcrest’s Alan Zhao, Ashley Howell, and Alana Liu were runners-up in the Math, Skilled and Technical Sciences, and Visual Arts categories, respectively.
Canyons District continues to be recognized for its fiscal transparency. For the 10th year running, the District has received a Certificate in Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO).

The award is given to districts that uphold the highest standards for financial reporting and accountability as exemplified by their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).  

School business officials are responsible for ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that the district budget reflects educational priorities and student needs, says ASBO International Director of Recognition Programs Molly Barrie. “The CAFR informs parents and other stakeholders about the financial and economic state of the district, making it an important communications tool for building trust and engaging with the school community.”

Canyons, under the leadership of Business Administrator Leon Wilcox, also routinely earns the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association. The Distinguished Budget Presentation Award is the association’s highest award in government budgeting. It recognizes Canyons’ budget as an outstanding policy document, financial plan, operations guide, and communications device.

Canyons also has maintained a sterling AAA-bond rating, which has a bearing on the District’s ability to affordably bond to pay for upgrades to aging school buildings. A high rating is like having perfect credit, which translates to low interest rates and millions in savings to taxpayers.
It never fails. Each spring, with the arrival of the first crocus blooms to emerge from the cool, rain-soaked ground, comes end-of-year testing season in Utah’s schools.

Only this season, students will be taking a new set of Utah State Board of Education-required assessments to demonstrate how much they have learned over the course of the year. The exam for students in grades 3-8 is called RISE, an acronym that stands for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment. The computer adaptive assessment adapts to an examinee’s abilities by proposing harder questions when a student gets something correct, and easier questions when the student gives a wrong answer. Ninth- through 10th-grade students will participate in a high school assessment called Utah Aspire Plus, which is designed to prepare them for the ACT, the most commonly used college-entrance exam. llamaSmall

“Students and teachers will find the tests, the questions, and their design very familiar,” says CSD Research and Assessment Director Dr. Hal Sanderson.

Why do schools test? What do the results mean, and why should students and parents care? 

Answers to these questions and more can be found on a new Canyons District resources page. Anyone curious about the how’s and why’s of testing is encouraged to browse the site, which contains teacher testimonials, testing tips, links to sample test questions, and more. The Utah State Board of Education also has created some online brochures describing Utah’s RISE and Aspire Plus exams.

“Testing has always been integral to education. Assessments inform instruction by helping teachers know if educational goals are being met,” explains Sanderson. “They’re an indicator of what’s working in the classroom and what can be done differently. Testing also gives parents a measure of their child’s learning, which, along with grades and other measures, helps answer the question: Is my child reaching expected learning targets and doing well compared to his or her peers?”   

But did you also know that a student’s performance on RISE in middle school can predict how well he or she will do on the ACT college entrance exam in high school? RISE, in other words, gives middle schoolers a glimpse at how they’ll do on a high-stakes test in a low-stakes environment when they still have time to go back and re-learn foundational concepts. 

dogsmallAnother surprising fact: Very little of the school year is devoted to test-taking. An internal audit performed last year revealed that Canyons District students spend just 1.2 percent to 2.7 percent of instruction time taking state and district assessments. By comparison, at one sampled Canyons District elementary school, recess accounted for 4.5 percent of the year, 12 percent was devoted to lunch and math instruction occupied 27.3 percent of the year. The full report is available online.

As Mount Jordan Middle teacher Kory Crockett explains: “We all know that tests can be stressful. Tests can be hard. But it’s really these hard things in life that help us grow the most. And especially with these end-of-the year tests, they don’t just tell us how much we’ve grown, they tell us how much we’ve grown as a school.”

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