Canyons District’s graduation rate has reached a new high. Over the past seven years, the percent of high school seniors to graduate has climbed steadily to surpass the state average, rising from 83 percent in 2011 to 89 percent in 2018—an increase largely driven by the achievement of a group of students who typically face the greatest obstacles to academic success.

All of Canyons’ five traditional high schools have reason to celebrate. But Jordan and Hillcrest stand out with the biggest gains, buoyed by the success of low-income and minority students and English language learners. “What’s most compelling about these numbers is that it’s not just a one- or two-year bump. We’re talking about significant, sustained improvement,” says CSD’s Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson, Ph.D.

GradRateOverall copySome of the improvement is attributed to the reconfiguration of CSD’s high schools to house grades 9-12. Doing so provided students with a more clearly-defined four-year path to graduation while also giving ninth-graders earlier exposure to more rigorous coursework. But the data suggest there’s also something else at work. 

“This isn’t about a shiny new educational program, it’s about providing students—all students—what they need to succeed,” says Jordan High Principal Wendy Dau. “Students want to be seen and heard. They need role models who believe they can rise to high expectations and who can constructively help them overcome challenges. They need someone in their corner.”

With 31 percent of Canyons’ students qualifying as low-income, and 16 percent identifying as members of an ethnic minority group, District leaders recognized early the importance of working to close the achievement gap. “Since its inception in 2009, the District has embraced a vision of 100 percent student success,” says Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt.

All student groups in Canyons District, including those with disabilities, are graduating in greater numbers. But the number of diploma-earning Hispanic and Latino students in CSD has grown at an especially steep rate, by a whopping 18 percentage points from 60 percent in 2011 to 78 percent in 2018. Students from low-income families and those learning English for the first time, also showed pronounced gains.

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Jordan and Hillcrest have implemented new programs to engage at-risk students during the summer as they transition from middle school to high school, but those programs are too new to have influenced graduation numbers. The reason for the students’ success may reach beyond grade reconfiguration and summer boot camps. 

“It really comes down to an every-day focus, and being disciplined about keeping tabs on school attendance, grades, and disciplinary issues, as well as building trusting relationships with students,” Leavitt says.

Hillcrest, for example, assigns struggling students to administrators who monitor their progress and check-in with them weekly. The school regularly sends credit reports to all parents, which map students’ progress toward graduation. They’ve built a 40-minute block of time into the school day for students to meet with faculty, seek extra help, and catch-up on homework. And they offer a credit-recovery lab where students can make up for lost time.

“Students, some of them newcomers to this country, who, because they come from devastating circumstances don’t have complete educational records, are able to earn original credit through this program,” Leavitt says.

Counselors at Hillcrest and Jordan also work to connect students and their families with social-emotional supports andpublic aid programs.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one student may not work for another,” says Dau. “But being organized about monitoring student progress is as non-negotiable as having committed teachers who choose to believe all students are capable of doing hard things.”

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Honoring a proud tradition, Canyons District is bidding a fond farewell to retiring colleagues. More than 30 employees have already made known their plans to make this school year their last—and whether they're withdrawing from active working life to travel or to be grandparents, we're confident the best is yet to come.

Some have devoted 40 years or more to Utah’s public school system, and many have worked for Canyons since the district’s inception in 2009. All of them have contributed to CSD’s success.

Please join us at Open Houses to celebrate the careers of these amazing teachers, administrators and Education Support Professionals.  To be added to the list, email the name of the retiree and the date, time and place of the Open House to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  •  An Open House for Russ Best will be Thursday, Jan. 31, 2-4 p.m. in the East Conference Room at the East Administration Building, 9361 S. 300 East in Sandy.
  • An Open House for Merlyn Rhoades will be Thursday, Jan. 312-4 p.m. in the Board Room at the East Administration Building, 9361 S. 300 East in Sandy.
The famed Battle of the Ax, one of Utah’s longest-standing high school sports rivalries, is celebrating its 50th anniversary to coincide with the 50th year of Brighton High.

It was the 1969 opening of Brighton, in fact, that led to the creation of the Bengals’ annual wrestling competition against Hillcrest High. Brighton was built to accommodate growth in the southeastern portion of Salt Lake County, and stood to inherit some of Hillcrest's students. Bengal wrestling coach Don Neff and Hillcrest coach Tex Casto came up with the traveling trophy as a way to build school pride while preserving a united spirit of community through sportsmanship.

This year’s event takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Brighton. It will be the last time that the competition will be held at the current Brighton campus—or the current Hillcrest campus, for that matter—because both schools are being completely rebuilt. Coaches Casto and Neff are expected to be honored at the event alongside former student wrestlers.

"In 50 years, a lot has changed. Computers fit in a pocket and phones no longer need a cord. Entertainment is on demand, and cars drive themselves," notes this Deseret News story about the competition's golden jubilee. "The one thing that has not changed is how two communities feel about a rivalry started 50 years ago by a couple of guys hoping to promote the sport of wrestling."

If you have a child who is receiving special education services in the Canyons School District, we want to know more about your experience.

As part of a routine survey performed every other year by the Utah State Board of Education, the District has scheduled a focus group to receive input from parents and guardians regarding their child’s education. We value your input, so please join us (see flyer below for details).

The State Board will be interested in hearing about your involvement in the IEP process, eligibility for services and transition services. You’ll also have an opportunity to provide other general feedback. Questions? Please contact 801-826-5191.

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We all grumble about our jobs from time to time, and teachers are no different. Those small and subtle messages, however, can quickly snowball to create an unflattering picture of teaching as a career choice—especially when uttered within earshot of impressionable young minds and compounded with news headlines about teacher shortages and walkouts.

But what if, instead of bemoaning the challenges of their chosen occupation, teachers consciously chose in their classrooms to talk about the autonomy they enjoy, the creativity involved in their jobs, and the meaningful difference they make? What if, as an experiment for a year, teachers wove messages into their lesson plans about the joys and rewards of working in education?

“Maybe it’s possible to flip the script, and counter negative talk about teaching with a groundswell of affirmative talk,” thought Canyons District recruiter Jo Jolley who set about doing just that through an ambassadorial program she created in partnership with the University of Utah’s Urban Institute for Teacher Education (UITE).

Here’s how it worked: Seven CSD teachers signed up to be ambassadors for which they received a small stipend from the U. Each was tasked with developing and testing strategies for elevating their profession, the end goal being to help build a healthy pipeline of future educators. The ambassadors were given free-license to come up with a campaign, program or messaging strategy that they felt would work best at their school, and their creativity was inspiring, says UITE Director Mary D. Burbank, Assistant Dean of the U.’s College of Education.

“Over the years, we’ve worked with area schools on dozens of programs to promote teaching and improve recruitment, but this is the first time we have asked teachers who are in the field to be ambassadors for their profession,” Burbank says. “Teachers are influential role models, and we know that daily exposure to positive role models factors heavily into people’s career choices. These ambassadors are exemplary educators who shine a positive light on their profession in ways that will perhaps change the perception of teaching and pique the interest of young people.”

Some of CSD’s ambassadors sponsored “Why I Teach” panel discussions. Others launched full-blown, college-level “Teaching 101” courses in CSD’s high schools. One such course at Hillcrest High, developed jointly with the U., attracted a large number of underrepresented minorities, a high-demand demographic for teacher-training programs looking to build a diverse, sustainable and high-quality teaching workforce.

But most of the ambassadors experimented with micro-messaging, those subtle—or not so subtle—messages that we convey about our values and expectations. Micro-messages can be found in a person’s tone of voice, a facial expression, or the utterance of a common phrase. They betray our beliefs and biases in ways we may not even be aware, but can also be used in constructive ways to drive cultural change.

recruitmentsidebar “We don’t have enough young people going into this profession, which probably has something to do with the way we portray our job on social media and in conversations,” said Denise Sidesinger, a science teacher at Albion Middle whose project entailed planting subliminal messages about teaching into classroom assignments and faculty meetings.

“I might tell my students, for example, that ‘I chose for us to do this experiment today, because as a teacher I have a lot of creative control,’” Sidesinger explained. “Or, if a student said something complimentary about a lesson or lecture, I would reply, ‘See, that’s why I like my job so much.’” She also devoted a column in the school newspaper to teacher testimonials, and wrote a letter to the editor titled, “We need loving teachers,” which was published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Courtney Roberts, a social studies teacher at Hillcrest High, had t-shirts printed for her colleagues emblazoned with the words, “Ask me why I teach.” She then videotaped teachers’ responses and publicized them using posters with QR codes that linked back to the testimonials.

Butler Middle English teacher Anna McNamer provocatively titled her project, “Teaching: It’s Not for Everyone” out of a desire to provide students with a clear-eyed view of education. “Teacher retention is an issue I’m passionate about, and my professors were very honest with me about the realities of the job,” she says. “But for me, the joys of teaching far outweigh the challenges. It’s important for my students to hear that.”

McNamer created a bingo card with categories reflecting what most teachers say they value about teaching. During Teacher Appreciation Week and Career- and College-Readiness Week, she tasked students with obtaining signatures from faculty members whose feelings about teaching matched the categories. “The idea was to plant seeds in their mind about education as a career. It was really reinvigorating for me and many of my colleagues,” McNamer says. “It’s just been a great collaborative process.”

Other school districts along the Wasatch Front have expressed an interest in participating in the ambassador program, and the U. plans to expand and build upon it with a series of “Why I Teach” video testimonials.

“It’s a messaging issue. We’re simply trying to change the narrative a bit,” Burbank says. “Teachers don’t go into teaching to have a spotlight on them, and they don’t get the opportunity very often to showcase their work. But there are so many great things happening in schools, so many pockets of excellence. Why not celebrate the accomplishments of educators who tirelessly engage in the daily work of teaching?”

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