Eighteen Canyons District students have advanced in a rigorous race to claim one of the country’s most prestigious scholarships for high school seniors. 

Students from Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon and Hillcrest high schools today were announced as semifinalists in the 2019 National Merit Scholar competition.  

The high-achieving CSD students join about 16,000 other top scholars who remain eligible to vie for 7,500 scholarships worth $31 million.

The roster of semifinalists was chosen from a field of 1.6 million students at more than 22,000 high schools. The nationwide pool of semifinalists represents fewer than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors. The number is proportional to the state's percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.

Candidates for National Merit Scholar awards must write an essay and take a prequalifying test, as well as submit SAT scores. Also required is a detailed scholarship application in which the students must provide academic-record and community-involvement information. The students must note their leadership experiences, voluntarism, employment and any other honors received, too.

The finalists and winners of 2019 scholarships will be announced in the spring

The students and their schools are: 

Alta High
  • Abigail Hardy 
  • Joshua Mickelson 
  • Joshua Pomeroy
Brighton High
  • Alex Fankhauser 
  • Sofia Maw 
  • Jenna Rupper
Corner Canyon
  • Sebastian Lee 
  • Peter Oldham
Hillcrest High
  • Alex Chang 
  • Anthony Grimshaw 
  • Bryan Guo 
  • Saey Kamtekar 
  • Emily Langie 
  • Hongying Liu 
  • Warren McCarthy 
  • Landon Nipko 
  • Eric Yu 
  • Alan Zhao
From a volunteer who gives grandfatherly lessons, to an auto-care company that has created a pipeline to a career for adult students, to principals who have dedicated themselves to building positive learning environments at their schools, the Canyons Board of Education on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 honored 11 men and women for their contributions to the District’s success. 

At a by-invitation-only event at The Gathering Place at Gardner Village, the Board of Education presented crystal awards to the 2018 winners of Apex Awards, the highest honors given by Canyons. More than 200 principals, teachers, district officials, and members of the community attended the ninth-annual event. Winners are chosen after a public-nomination process.  

“A decade ago, families and teachers across the District started this historic journey of working together to build a world-class school district for our community,” Canyons Board President Sherril H. Taylor said. “This year’s winners of the Apex Awards certainly have helped us reach that milestone, and we are so glad they are part of the Canyons District family.  They have helped make us strong.” 

During the banquet and ceremony, Taylor also noted the accomplishments of the District in the previous school year: The dozens of state and region championships, the passage of a $283 million bond to build and improve schools, the multimillion-dollar tally of scholarship offers for the Class of 2018, and the completion of Indian Hills Middle, the 13th and final project promised to the community when the public approved a $250 million bond in 2010.

Teacher of the Year — Amber Rogers

In today’s world, teenagers might sometimes feel detached and disinterested in the subject of history, but not in Amber Rogers’ classroom. As the Social StudiesDepartment Chair at Corner Canyon, Rogers makes history sparkle, even for students who struggle the most.  “She is truly the embodiment of what it means to be a professional educator,” Corner Canyon Principal Darrell Jensen said. “If we could clone Ms. Rogers in the educational industry, we would be very successful in everything we set out to do.” Rogers, whose unmistakable laugh is often heard reverberating throughout the hallways at Corner Canyon High, is known throughout the Canyons community as an energetic, creative, passionate, fun, and dedicated educator. She credits her high school U.S. history teacher for steering her toward a teaching career. In that class, she learned the power of telling stories and the importance of figuring out how to grip students as they learn about past events. She brings that knowledge into her Corner Canyon classroom as she creates simulations to make history and government topics tangible and comprehensible. Through her engaging instruction, Rogers inspires her students to become invested in their education as she impacts their lives. For her dedication to students, the Canyons Board of Education is pleased to present the 2018 Apex Award for Teacher of the Year to Amber Rogers.

School Administrator of the Year — Sunrise Elementary Principal Margaret Swanicke

Margaret Swanicke’s smile is as warm and bright as the name of the elementary school she leads. As students and parents arrive at Sunrise Elementary, they are greeted by this dark-haired dynamo who has carefully cultivated a learning environment that is welcoming and inclusive. But Principal Swanicke’s cheery disposition should not belie her fierce dedication to high-quality classroom instruction, increased student learning, and upstanding student behavior. By turns, she’s fun yet firm, understanding yet unwavering, and strong yet not steely. Her influence is among the factors contributing to Sunrise’s notable performances on annual statewide standardized tests. But while the school community is pleased with such academic prowess, they are most proud of the spirit that Swanicke inspires. Parents laud her outreach efforts, teachers applaud her team-building abilities, and excited children rush into her office to be rewarded with trinkets for academic and behavioral excellence. As one Sunrise parent commented, “Principal Swanicke knows every child and every parent. She does not just know their names, she knows the child’s needs and how to maximize their opportunity for growth and learning.” It’s the honor of the Canyons Board of Education to present Sunrise Elementary Principal Margaret Swanicke with the 2018 Apex Award for School Administrator of the Year. 

School Administrator of the Year — Edgemont Elementary Principal Cathleen Schino
Cathleen Schino loves planning back-to-school surprises for her faculty—her latest stunt being to travel to their homes late at night to deposit lawn signs declaring, “An Outstanding Educator Lives Here.” To Schino, whose face lights up when she talks about the “quirky, fun, intelligent, and kid-centered” employees at Edgemont Elementary, these aren’t just words. She expects outstanding things from her team—and her students—and she’s the first to shout from the rooftops when they achieve them. An educator for 24 years, Schino has taught every elementary grade level, from kindergarten to the fifth-grade, and she’s learned to trust in systems. She believes that every student matters, and they thrive and achieve when schools are predictable in their expectations. At Edgemont, this means having a strong common language. Instead of using “stop” commands to correct misbehavior, her teachers use “start” commands to steer students in the desired direction. But she’s no micro-manager, championing instead a "make solutions not problems" philosophy and encouraging those around her to greet challenges as opportunities. The Edgemont Eagles know who theyare and where they’re headed, and this school spirit is reflected in soaring year-end test scores, which rose in all grades last year, in some cases by as much as 31 percent. Because of her caring, determined leadership, Edgemont is a safe, rigorous, and positive learning environment for all students and teachers to reach their potential. It’s with deep gratitude that the Canyons Board of Education presents Cathleen Schino with the 2018 Apex Award for School Administrator of the Year.

Student Support Services Professionals of the Year - Jordan High Counseling Team

Jordan High’s counselors will go to great lengths to lift the Beetdiggers to great heights. The counseling office has attracted statewide attention for its efforts to help Jordan students plan for college and careers and find emotional equilibrium amid the chaos of adolescence. Last year, thanks to the work of the counselors, the school finished second among all Utah high schools in completion of the federal forms that must be completed for students to obtain financial aid for college. In addition, the Jordan counseling team identified freshmen who were at the edge of failing a course two weeks before the end of each quarter. Using a “check-and-connect” approach, the counselors helped students earn 680 quarter credits that would have been lost to failing grades. Jordan High students are also represented at the highest percentage at CTEC, which in large part is due to counselor advocacy. In addition to all of those initiatives, last year the counselors were linchpin in the school’s efforts to develop and launch a summer academy for freshmen who were at risk of failing as they entered high school. However, perhaps most important task they assumed was the investment of time they made in the nearly 50 students who were struggling with suicide ideation and other difficult issues. In so many ways, the Jordan High counselors have shown they care deeply about their students’ lives. It’s the true pleasure of the Canyons Board of Education to award the 2018 Apex Award for Student Services Professionals of the Year to the counseling team at Jordan High. 

District Administrator of the Year — Instructional Supports Director Dr. Amber Roderick-Landward

An avid skier, Amber Roderick-Landward approaches her job as the Director of Instructional Supports like she does the most daunting slope of powder — with equal parts passion, skill, and finesse. As the chief curriculum officer, Dr. Roderick-Landward is responsible for not just what all 34,000 Canyons students are learning in their classes, but how they are advancing their skills in science, social studies, mathematics and English language arts.  While not an easy task, it’s one that she’s undertaken with grace for 10 school years. Since the District’s founding in 2009, when she assumed a vital position as one of the architects of Canyons’ academic plan, her portfolio of duties has grown to include the oversight of all elementary, secondary and educational-technology curriculum and instruction. Under her leadership, teams of specialists have charted countless curriculum maps, scrutinized reams of achievement data, provided thousands of hours of professional development, and launched standards-based initiatives. As a result, since Dr. Roderick-Landward first started her unyielding drive to build and maintain a stellar grade-to-grade system of learning across Canyons, test scores, graduation rates, and scholarship offers for graduates have been on the upswing. It’s for these reasons, and more, that the Canyons Board of Education has chosen Dr. Amber Roderick-Landward as the recipient of the 2018 Apex Award for District Administrator of the Year.

Education Support Professionals of the Year — Information Technology engineers Sharon Simmons and Eric Taylor

Don’t call them the “break it, fix it” team. Sharon Simmons and Eric Taylor believe in heading off problems before they happen and are always looking for better ways to support schools in their important, hard work of helping children achieve their goals and dreams. As Information Technology Engineers, they are Canyons District’s silent super heroes, working behind the scenes to keep Skyward—the computerized backbone of Canyons District’s most critical functions—running strong. Because they’re good at what they do, teachers and staff are able to get paid, schools can make purchases, and teachers can record attendance and report grades. It helps that they were part of the original team to design and install the system, having both been with the District since its inception. When Skyward went live on July 1, 2009, the dynamic duo had less than a month to get payroll established and to build a portal for families to register their children for school. Back then, there were a lot of heroics and trial-and-error decisions. Every new day, and software update, brings fresh challenges. But now they’re able to draw on the experience of those early days to find even more elegant, forward-thinking solutions. They care deeply about what they do and how they do it, and for these reasons and more, the Canyons Board of Education is proud to present Sharon Simmons and Eric Taylor with 2018 Apex Awards for Educational Support Professional of the Year.

Volunteer of the Year — Ridgecrest volunteer Jay Neeley

On a sunny fall day, as the bell rings to herald the start of the school day at Ridgecrest Elementary, Jay Neeley welcomes a trio of students with a broad smile and launches into a board game. With all the giggles and good-natured banter, it’s apparent his little charges are not fully aware that the fun and games are also educational primers that will lead them to improved literacy and numeracy skills. Rain or shine, three days a week, Neeley traverses the Salt Lake Valley to arrive at the Cottonwood Heights-area school to help struggling students. Neely uses the instructional skills he honed over a three-decade-long career as a secondary-school teacher to build relationships of trust and reinforce classroom lessons. His approach is so effective that the principal once offered him a job as an interventionist. Neeley, who often picks up donuts for teachers on his way to his volunteer post, politely declined, saying he didn’t want a job. He wanted to do some good. And in the seven years that he’s been volunteering at the school, which began when his grandson was attending Ridgecrest, he’s done more than that—he’s done great.  It’s the pleasure of the Canyons Board of Education to award Jay Neely with the 2018 Apex Award for Volunteer of the Year.

Elected Official of the Year — Rep. Bruce Cutler

Rep. Bruce Cutler comes by leadership naturally as the great grandson of John Christopher Cutler, the second governor of Utah. But his own foray into politics was born from a desire to support public schools, which he believes are the foundation of a healthy society, thriving economy, and functioning democracy. As an eight-year member of the Murray City School District’s Board of Education, he witnessed firsthand the value of the maxim that “the government closest to the people serves the people best.” His steadfast belief in local control guides his actions today as a member of the House Education Committee of the Utah legislature. As a champion of early childhood education and member of the Canyons Education Foundation Board, Cutler, R-Murray, forges trusting partnerships with local businesses and community groups to support students in need. Under his leadership, a new college-savings plan scholarship was established for seventh-graders who are the first in their family to aspire to college. Rep. Cutler’s boots-on the-ground approach to representing the Canyons District area is evident as he frequently tours Canyons’ schools and participates in their events. He does it, he says, because he enjoys it and “feels at home in schools,” but also because he can think of no more important undertaking. Of all the vigorously debated issues on Capitol Hill, he says, “we all come together on education, because we all value it.” For his unwavering support of school children, the Canyons Board of Education is pleased to present Rep. Bruce Cutler with the 2018 Apex Award for Elected Official of the Year.

Canyons District Business Partner of the Year — McNeil’s Auto
The stars were aligned the day Entrada found McNeil’s Auto Care. Faced with losing half of the nation’s auto mechanics to retirement in four to seven years, McNeil’s was in desperate need of aspiring talent. Canyons District’s Entrada, meanwhile, was in search of a trusted business partner to provide adult high school students with quality hands-on training, something beyond conventional job shadowing. With a few phone calls, their joint venture was formed—and what started as a marriage of convenience soon blossomed into something deeper, more meaningful and rare. Mike and Pete McNeil, the father-and-son duo behind McNeil’s, tasked their lead technician with creating the auto-tech program’s curriculum and co-instructing the courses. Through their affiliation with the national NAPA AutoCare network, the Sandy-based businessmen also were able to sponsor tuition-free apprenticeships through which Entrada graduates become can certified and earn toolboxes fully stocked with $1,000 in tools. The program has exceeded all expectations in preparing students to thrive in a career they might never have considered, and NAPA is looking to replicate it in other states. For giving their all so students can find an avenue to give theirs, the Canyons Board of Education is proud to present McNeil’s Auto Care with the 2018 Apex Award for Business Partner of the Year. 

Legacy Award — Business Administrator Leon Wilcox
Leon Wilcox’s trademark wit has lightened the mood at many critical crossroads faced by Canyons in the nearly 10 years that he’s been at the forefront of ensuring the financial viability of the District. But operating a multimillion-dollar government agency, especially one that is legally responsible for providing educational services to all children in Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Sandy and the town of Alta, is serious business, and Wilcox, as CSD’s chief financial officer, has assumed his staggeringly important leadership role with not just good humor, but savvy, strength, and skill. Through prudent fiscal practices, Wilcox, a Certified Public Accountant, has helped bolster Canyons’ economic health, paving the way to a AAA bond rating, which saves taxpayers millions. The man behind the ledger, Wilcox, who started his time in CSD as the Director of Accounting, also created the financial plan behind the comprehensive $283 million tax-rate-neutral bond proposal that voters approved by a wide margin in November 2017. At the same time, he continued to lead the District’s departments that provide business services to CSD. Under his watch, like clockwork, school cafeterias serve meals; high-tech systems are implemented and serviced; schools are built, cleaned and landscaped; supplies and equipment are ordered and delivered; vendors are paid; and employees receive paychecks. Yes, it’s a big job, but Wilcox does it all with professionalism and aplomb. And that’s no joke. The Canyons Board of Education is pleased
to the 2018 Legacy Award to Business Administrator Leon Wilcox.

Find more photos in our Google Photo album here.

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  • Jordan High opened its doors to patrons near and far on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 as parents, students, children, and friends gathered to watch a screening of an anxiety-themed documentary called “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,”  

    Visitors travelled from as far as Provo and Bountiful to watch the film and listen to a panel of experts discuss the prevalence of anxiety among youth and teens today. In partnership with the Deseret News, Canyons District hosted the event as a kick-off to Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which takes place in September. 

    Some 400 people attended the screening and posed questions to a panel of experts, including Tori Gillett, Canyons’ school counseling program specialist; Lizbeth Velazquez, a Canyons social worker at Jordan High and Mount Jordan Middle; Karin Gornick, the film’s producer; and Jenny Howe, a therapist featured in the film. Canyons’ Director of Responsive Services BJ Weller introduced Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson, who moderated a panel discussion that centered around what causes anxiety, whether parents are responsible for causing it, and what students can do to cope.

    “We need to talk about how to tackle the problem of suicide,” Matheson said. “As much as this is about preventing a tragic end, it’s also about taking advantage of all of our resources to help our youth and teens.”

    Canyons District provides help to students in crisis through the Department of Responsive Services. The department offers crisis support, counseling services and at-risk prevention, among other services. The District is taking a “blended approach” to making sure students have access to mental health professionals while at school. 

    This year, 10 extra student support specialists have been hired, and every CSD schools has been assigned a school psychologist and a counselor and/or social worker. This ensures that schools have the advantage of using the varied skills that school psychologists, counselors and social workers all bring to the table.

    The problem of anxiety is one that troubles both parents and youth throughout the country, but it is important to confront the issue, rather than run away from it, experts from the panel said. The first step to accepting anxiety is to share it with others. 

    “Start talking about it with someone you trust,” Velazquez said.

    Parents can help their students by acknowledging their students’ struggle, but not necessarily taking away the thing that is making them uncomfortable, such as, picking them up from school if the student calls and asks to come home because of anxiety, Howe said. 

    “As parents, we want to fix, and we want to shelter, and that’s OK to some extent, but we’re not allowing our kids the opportunity to not be OK,” Howe said.

    The documentary screening was the fourth showing of the movie at an event hosted by the Deseret News. The newspaper s hosting eight events throughout the state to raise the conversation about anxiety and share information on how to respond. More information from the Deseret News is available on the newspaper's website.

    “I hope as you walk out of here tonight you will know you are not alone,” Matheson told the audience Thursday. “You are one of us. And we need to keep this conversation going.”
    It seems like life moves so much faster and forceful than for previous generations, resulting in feelings of angst for many teenagers. While anxiety is typical for students who are growing, maturing and facing challenging peer-pressure issues, an increasing number of students develop anxiety disorders that greatly impact how they can approach day-to-day activities. 

    As part of Suicide Awareness Month in September, Canyons District is partnering with the Deseret News to host a free screening of the IndieFlix documentary “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” for parents and teens. The film addresses what anxiety is — its causes and effects, and what can be done about it.

    The 6 p.m. event will be Thursday, Sept. 6 at Jordan High, 95 Beetdigger Blvd.   The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring local mental-health experts, including Canyons District counselors and social workers. 

    The documentary raises awareness about anxiety through the stories of such people as gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, who opens up in the film about suffering from anxiety. 

    The producers of the film say they have one goal: to start a global conversation and raise awareness around anxiety. Through candid interviews, they utilize the power of film to tell the stories of many kids and teens who discuss their anxiety and its impacts on their lives and relationships, as well as how they’ve found solutions and hope.

    In addition, the documentary provides discussions with mental health experts about the causes of anxiety and its sociological effects, along with the help, resources and tools available to address the condition.

    Click here to reserve your spot at the event.
    Note: Recordings and documents for agenda items can be accessed via BoardDocs by clicking on the corresponding agenda items.

    Proposed Bond Resolution 

    The Board of Education discussed the potential issuance of bonds for up to $75 million. Canyons patrons in November voted on a proposal that, in effect, gives the District approval to bond to up to $283 million for new-school construction and building renovations. A proposed bond resolution states the term of the bond payments would be 21 years at a maximum annual interest rate of 5 percent. The Board took the proposal under advisement.  The resolution is scheduled to be considered for approval on Sept. 4. 

    Major Improvement Projects

    Business Administrator Leon Wilcox presented information about the current and upcoming major construction and renovation projects in Canyons School District. The Board of Education has approved construction bids related to the Alta, Brighton and Hillcrest projects, which were all promised to the public at passage of the 2017 $283 million bond.  Between October and December, the Board will be asked to review bid packages for additional classrooms at Corner Canyon High; an addition to Canyons Administration Building-East; and additional work at Alta, Brighton and Hillcrest high schools. In the spring, the Board is expected to review bid packages for the rebuild at Midvalley Elementary. 

    Draper CEA

    The Board of Education approved a proposed interlocal tax-increment agreement between the Canyons District and the Draper City RDA for a development inside the South Mountain Community Reinvestment Project Area.

    Special Education Update

    Canyons District’s Special Education Director Misty Suarez updated the Board on the programs provided to students who qualify for special-education services. Suarez discussed staffing and recruiting, new initiatives, and the change in location for some intensive programs.

    New Administrators

    The Board of Education met this year’s new administrators. They welcomed Amy Boettger, Principal at Diamond Ridge and Entrada; Mark Mataya, Assistant Principal of Diamond Ridge and Entrada; David Briggs, Special Education Administrator; Colleen Smith, Program Manager in Responsive Services; Beverly Herrmann, Program Administrator at Student Advocacy and Access;  Transportation Director Jeremy Wardle; Sara Allen, the new Assistant Principal at Butler Middle; Ashley McKinney, Assistant Principal at Midvale Elementary;  Matt Nelson, Principal at East Midvale Elementary; Scott Jameson, Principal at Alta View Elementary; and Lori Reynolds, Principal at Sprucewood Elementary. 

    Pledge, Reverence

    The Pledge of Allegiance was led by School Performance Director Joanne Ackerman.  Public Engagement Coordinator Susan Edwards delivered the Reverence.


    The following students, faculty and staff were recognized for their achievements:
    • Redd Owen, Brighton High student, 5A state champion, first-singles boys tennis
    • Brighton High Boys Tennis Team, 5A state champions
    • Mary Hardy, Lone Peak Head Secretary, Think Safe Award
    Consent Agenda

    The Board of Education approved the consent agenda, including the minutes from the Aug. 7, 2018 meeting of the Canyons Board of Education; hiring and termination reports, purchasing bids; student overnight travel requests; July financial reports; and a letter of support for a Midvale community pool. 

    Policy Update

    With an affirmative vote, the Board complied with a state law requiring updates to policies governing bullying, cyber-bullying, hazing, and retaliation to include abusive conduct.  The policy needed to be updated by Sept. 1. 

    Patron Comments

    Parent Julie Cluff told the Board she’s concerned about the length of time her children on the bus. She also expressed concern about the District’s special education services, including ensuring schools are appropriately placing special-education students in a “least restrictive environment,” according to federal law. 

    Reports by Superintendent, Business Administrator

    Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe expressed sadness at the passing of a Hillcrest student and the long-term illness of another. He also asked the communities at Alta, Brighton and Hillcrest to be patient with the available parking spaces, which have been reduced with construction on the new buildings. He attended the groundbreaking of Brighton High and the ribbon-cutting at Indian Hills Middle.  He’s excited about the first day of school, and will be traveling the District visiting students, teachers and staff. 

    Business Administrator Leon Wilcox thanked the Facilities Department for working hard on the summer projects.  He also reported on the full roster of bus drivers that have been hired for the school year. Bus drivers recently were given an increase in salary in an effort to attract and retain bus drivers. 

    Board of Education Reports

    Mr. Mont Millerberg reported on attending the Brighton High groundbreaking and the Indian Hills Middle ribbon-cutting event. The updated schools give teachers the ability to enhance instruction and prepare students for college and careers. He said he participated in the Harvest Days Parade in a CSD bus.  He represented the District and the Canyons Education Foundation at the Cottonwood Heights golf tournament. He recognized Hillcrest Principal Greg Leavitt for personally conducting a tour of the school with alumni and discussing the plans for the future. He also mentioned the Letter of Support the Board approved for a Midvale community pool. 

    Mrs. Amber Shill reported on attending Cottonwood Heights’ annual luncheon for the Teachers of the Year from city-area schools.  She noted the excitement surrounding the construction of a new Brighton. Mrs. Shill also noted that support from the community was evident at the groundbreaking event.  She is excited for the first day of school.

    Mr. Chad Iverson noted the energy at the Indian Hills Middle ribbon-cutting. He attended sporting events where CSD student-athletes competed.  He wished the CSD community a safe start to school. 

    Mrs. Clareen Arnold recognized the special energy surrounding the red carpet welcome events on the first day of school.  She attended the ribbon-cutting event at Indian Hills and the groundbreaking at Brighton High. 

    Mrs. Nancy Tingey expressed appreciation for the traditions of holding groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for our projects. She also attended the Tools for Schools donation-drive that benefitted children in nine school districts.  She thanked the staff and administration for striving to be leaders in important issues. 

    President Sherril Taylor spoke about the excitement surrounding the ribbon-cutting for Indian Hills Middle.  He says he judged the success of the Back-to-School Night by looking at the faces of the kids at the event. The students looked so excited. He also thanked the administration for holding professional development classes to help teachers as they prepare for the school year.  In addition, he lauded the people in the social-emotional support systems that CSD has in place to aid ailing or distressed families and students. 
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