The robust cheers heard throughout the Salt Lake Valley on Monday, Aug. 19 were likely from the back-to-school celebrations held at Canyons District schools.   

Per an 11-year tradition, principals rolled out red carpets to welcome students to the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers, principals, and parents, as well as Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe and members of the Canyons Board of Education, lined up to snap photos, cheer and give high-fives and fist bumps to the students headed into school for the first time of the school year.

Adding to the festivities were players from Real Salt Lake and Royals FC, the professional soccer players who compete at Rio Tinto Stadium, located within the Canyons District boundaries.  The players, who encouraged all the students to set their sights on reaching their goals, were accompanied by Leo the Lion, who attracted a crowd wherever he went.  

Elementary and middle school students also received a free pencil for their backpacks.  Another tool Canyons District is providing students is “social-emotional” training to make good decision, manage emotions and solve problems. After all, children can’t learn at high levels if they feel insecure, anxious, stressed or scared. 

BJ Weller, Canyons’ Responsive Services Director, appeared on ABC4 and KUTV on the first day of school to talk about how the District is helping children develop the confidence and character traits needed for success in life and school. This includes things like teaching students who to set and achieve goals, make and keep friends, and make responsible decisions.   

“We’re still teaching math, science, reading and writing … but we’re now cognizant of how, say the simple act of reading, can teach children empathy by exposing them to different perspectives or persisting with a math problem can teach perseverance,” he says.  “As a parent, you may hear your teacher refer to this as social-emotional learning. But it’s really best described as life skills, which, research suggests can significantly increase a student’s chances of graduating from high school and college.”

In Canyons District, the Board of Education has invested in the hiring and training of psychologists, social workers and counselors for every school. These professionals are there as a resource for families and to help maintain environments where children feel connected and safe to raise their hands, try hard things, and reach out to new friends. Also, starting this fall, and over the next few years, Canyons schools will be rolling out a new, social-emotional learning curriculum to help teachers and staff speak the same language when talking about things like problem-solving, focusing in class, and working as teams.

“Again, much of this is just part of everyday learning. For example, while reading a book in kindergarten about a boy who loses his dog, the teacher might prompt students to talk about how the boy feels or discuss steps he might take to begin searching for his pet. A failed science experiment can serve as an important lesson about it’s OK when things don’t work as planned, it’s part of the learning process. It’s kind of a new way of thinking about book smarts.”

Parents can support, Weller says, by modeling a positive attitude about education and showing interest in their child’s classes, teachers and friends.
New sixth-grade students descended on middle schools across Canyons District for orientation on Friday morning with excitement, some trepidation—and a million questions. 

For the last 11 years, Canyons’ middle schools have opened their doors a day early to help newcomers navigate the hallways, learn new schedules, explore the cafeteria, open their lockers, and generally get a grip on what it means to leave elementary school.

“At the end of the day, I just really want them to be excited to come back, that they’re not fearful on Monday,” said Draper Park Middle School Vice Principal Jodi Roberts. “Kids are scared of not knowing how to open their lockers, being able to find their classes, not having any friends—these are the things we focus on to alleviate their anxiety.”

Roberts and the other sixth-grade teachers at Draper Park also focused on teaching students the new rules that come with middle school. They greeted students with colorful hats and mustaches as part of the orientation’s theme: “I mustache you if you are excited for the 6th grade” and gently offered guidance in how to navigate school rules and the new expectations of middle school.middleschoolorientation

When Roberts saw a group of newcomers sprinting around the corner toward the lockers, she made a point of teaching them not to run through the wide, sunny hallways. They had to go back to their classrooms and start again, because with 1,640 students at the school, there isn’t room for anything but walking if you want to avoid a collision. “When in your life do you have to learn all of this?” Roberts said, after the students complied. “There is so much to learn.”

In math period, the students solved a problem that involved a gummy peach ring and a gummy worm, but they also learned the right way to participate in class. “Ladies and gentleman, 3, 2, 1,” said sixth-grade math teacher Kim Oldroyd as she worked to get her students to listen. “Why do I want you to clap on ‘1’? Right, to show me your hands are empty. OK, ladies and gentleman, 3, 2, 1 — pretty good. We’ll work on it.”

The students toured the cafeteria and ate popsicles as they learned they’ll have more lunch choices in middle school, but they better not cut the line or they’ll be sent to the end. They learned that all of their sixth-grade core classes are on the main floor of the school, separated from the older students, to give them a little buffer. In social studies class, the students had a question-and-answer period with several of the school’s student council members.

In one class, the students were abrim with questions. 

“How much better is the food?”
“How much homework do we get?”
“How big is this school?”
“What if you forgot your locker code?”

The students took turns asking about everything they wanted to know, then they practiced opening their lockers and headed to the auditorium for an assembly, looking remarkably more confident and prepared to face a new school year.

The first day of school for the 2019-2020 school year is Monday, August 19. Information on bell schedules can be found on each school’s main web page, and the school calendar can be found on Canyons District’s alphabetic directory of parent resources.
On Monday, Aug. 19, tens-of-thousands of students will file into Canyons District classrooms with fresh hopes for a successful school year. They’ll accept new challenges and celebrate new triumphs—and they’ll do it together, secure in the knowledge that school is a place where all learners are welcome, respected, supported and safe.

Such is the commitment made by Canyons District schools, and the promise behind new supports being put into place to help students navigate modern pressures and develop the confidence and character traits that are crucial for success in life and school. Over the past two years, the Board of Education has invested in the hiring and training of psychologists, social workers and counselors for every school. Starting this fall, and over the next few years, schools also will be rolling out a new, evidence-based social-emotional learning curriculum.

The idea is to “be systematic in our approach” to supporting our teachers and staff—not just counselors—in building strong connections with students and talking to them about problem-solving, building relationships and resolving conflicts, CSD Board President Nancy Tingey explained Thursday to 1,000 Utah educators gathered for a symposium on social-emotional learning in downtown Salt Lake. “It’s really about creating the right conditions for teaching and learning.”

Schools have always worked to maintain environments where children feel connected and safe to raise their hands and reach out to new friends, and social-emotional learning is catching on as a proven approach for achieving that. NancyatSymposium

Having evolved from “character or civic education,” it’s building momentum alongside a growing body of research supporting its use, says Utah’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, who also spoke at the symposium. “We know more about brain research than we ever have before, and social-emotional learning is part of that.”

Whatever the cause, from the omnipresence of social media to increasingly competitive college admission standards, children today are more stressed and anxious than ever. In a recent Pew survey, 70 percent of teens say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers.

“The issues we face are complex,” says BJ Weller, Director of Responsive Services, which oversees student supports. “But our focus is simple: helping students achieve academically. The fact is, students can’t excel at school if they are anxious, worried, fearful, depressed, or experiencing trauma.”

Weller invites parents to become acquainted with the counseling professionals in their schools and familiar with the resources available to assist students and their families.

Canyons District has embraced a “blended model” for providing supports. “Recognizing these professionals have different, yet equally important skill sets, we’ve worked hard to provide every school with at least one counselor and/or one social worker or school psychologist,” he says. Secondary schools have counseling centers to help guide students not just toward high school graduation but also to having a healthy outlook on life. School nurses also are a part of helping students feel well enough to learn at high levels. 

The “Second Step” curriculum that Canyons is adopting is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). It's lessons are designed to help students from kindergarten to eighth grade manage emotions, solve problems in a positive way, demonstrate empathy, and focus during class. Second Step makes sample lessons and family resources available on their website for parents to explore.

Not only are trained staff members available to aid students, but Canyons was among the first school districts in Utah to roll out access to a mobile app text-and-tip line called SafeUT. This is available for students and parents to use if they need to immediately report a concern, be it about a student’s mental, social or physical well-being. Access to this app, which provides all-day and all-night real-time access to school administrators and licensed clinicians at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, is available to all Canyons school communities.

CSD’s Responsive Services also maintains and online library of tools for parents and educators about a range of topics from suicide and drug- and alcohol-prevention to tips about how to talk to children, adolescents about traumatic events. 

Canyons School District Resources:

Crisis Prevention and Intervention
Suicide Prevention
Bullying Prevention Tips
Drug and Alcohol Prevention Resources
Preventing Gang Involvement
Crisis Services 
Canyons District Family Services 
Community-Based Counseling Services
LGBTQ+  Resources 
Parent Education Services 
Following a three-month public comment period culminating with Tuesday’s Truth-in-Taxation hearing, the Canyons District Board of Education made official its previously proposed plan to give all CSD teachers a $7,665 salary increase. Representing a double-digit increase for every teacher, this puts the starting annual teacher pay in Canyons District at $50,000. The Board unanimously voted to increase the tax rate by 0.000606 to fund the historic pay bump to licensed personnel.

“We consider every dollar received a sacred trust,” said Board President Nancy Tingey who thanked members of the public for taking time to provide input on the salary proposal in person, by email and during phone conversations. “The community benefits when you have a strong and vibrant public education system. …This will bring returns now and for many years to come.”

The new salary schedule was announced on April 23 when a tentative contract agreement was made with the Canyons Education Association (CEA), which annually negotiates the salary and benefits package for CSD educators. On May 6, the Board officially approved the contract, and the CEA announced that members had ratified it. The negotiated salary increase also was discussed in public when the District on May 30 released its proposed budget for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year. A public hearing for the proposed budget, which included a tax rate of 0.007507, was held on June 18, giving patrons an opportunity to ask questions and provide input. At tonight’s Truth-in-Taxation meeting, held in the Board Chambers at the Canyons Administration Building-East, 9361 S 300 East, 36 patrons, including teachers, addressed the Board.

“Research has shown that the most significant impact on a student’s education (that you can control) is the teacher,” said CEA President Erika Bradshaw in addressing the Board on Tuesday. “As you know, we are facing a nationwide teacher shortage that is severely impacting Utah. The tax increase will greatly help CSD in offering competitive salary and benefits, encouraging teachers to choose CSD for their employer. We cannot provide the best education to our most vulnerable population, our students, if we do not have the best educators in their classrooms.”

Of the $19.6 million required for this salary increase, $13.750 million will come from funds generated by the property tax increase. The remainder will come from attrition, cost-cutting, and a legislatively approved 4 percent increase in per-pupil spending. All revenue generated through the tax increase will only be used for teachers’ salaries.

This is the first time in Canyons’ 10-year history that the District has sought to recoup inflation through an adjustment in the certified tax rate. The adjustment of the tax rate will result in a $140 per year, or $12 monthly, increase on a $421,000 home, the average price of a home in CSD.

Tuesday’s vote to fund the compensation package signals the end of salary negotiations for the 2019-2020 school year. If the vote had not passed, the District and CEA would have continued negotiations. Licensed personnel will see the pay raise reflected in their first paycheck for the new contract year. 
Zeke Michel found his calling long before he could verbalize it as a career goal while working as a peer tutor mentoring fellow Hillcrest High students with intellectual disabilities.

That nascent interest steered him to seek a job as an after-school custodian at Jordan Valley, Canyons District’s school for students with severe disabilities. In 2015, when an opening presented itself, he applied for a position as a para-educator at the school, which blossomed into a full-time teaching job. Four years later, he was named Jordan Valley’s Teacher of the Year.

“I just fell in love with the kids at Jordan Valley,” Michel says. “Call it fate, or whatever. But I feel pretty lucky to have found my path, a paying profession pursuing my passion at an organization that has been enriching the lives of exceptional students for many years.”

Canyons District needs more Zeke Michels. But in the face of a nationwide teaching shortage, recruiters don’t have the luxury to leave the recruitment process to luck or fate. So, Canyons’ talent scouts have struck an innovative partnership with the University of Utah to introduce peer tutors to the world of special education and encourage them to consider majoring in education in college. Screen Shot 2019 08 01 at 9.01.48 AM

Enrollment in teacher training programs at the nation’s colleges and universities is on the decline, and more teachers are leaving the profession each year than are entering the classroom. Special education teachers are especially in high demand along with para-educators who are hired to assist in their classrooms. In Canyons District alone, there are currently 24 positions open for full- and part-time para-educators.

“We know many peer tutors and para-educators move on to become special education teachers. Why not plant the seeds now to grow that natural pipeline?” says Canyons District recruiter Jo Jolley.

The curriculum for Canyons’ new “Introduction to Special Education” course was designed by and will be taught by U. faculty as an after-school elective at Alta High starting this spring. Students will earn college credit in the course, which is similar to another “Introduction to Education” course that Canyons and the U. co-sponsor at Hillcrest High.

“Our stated mission as a District is to prepare students for college and careers, and we have a population of students who have demonstrated an interest in special education. It really behooves us to provide them with innovative opportunities to explore that,” says Tifny Iacona, Assistant Director of Special Education and Related Services.

For Michel, being a peer tutor was fun and gratifying. But, he says, it was working as a para-professional in the classroom that revealed “how much of an impact I could have in helping students achieve.”

Positive, healthy and caring relationships are at the heart of all learning, and para-educators are at the forefront of that relationship-building. “Para-educators are able to develop strong bonds with students because they work so closely with them. At Jordan Valley, they ride the bus with students or work one-on-one with them or in groups to help them develop life skills,” Michel says. “Sometimes, you’re the first face students encounter at school, and being there to welcome them and celebrate their successes can set the tone for their entire school day or year.”

In special education, the successes may sometimes seem intangible. “Success could mean a student walking down the hall independently or paying attention in class for 20 minutes,” Michel says. “But small successes lead to big successes, and they happen every single day.”

We're Hiring Para-Educators

  • The para-educator position is a great option for stay-at-home moms and dads who have school-age kids, because it’s part-time and the work hours coincide with the time that kids are in school. Canyons has openings in preschool and special education classrooms. If you’re already volunteering at your neighborhood school, this is a good way to contribute while also getting paid.
  • Last year, 130 of CSD’s teachers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in special education qualified for legislatively-approved $4,100 stipends through the Utah State Board of Education. Additionally, 62 CSD teachers in self-contained classrooms received District-funded stipends of $3,000 for undergoing special training. In all, these teachers benefitted to the tune of about $720,000. And that comes on top of two consecutive years of sizeable teacher pay increases approved by the Canyons Board of Education. Qualified teachers are eligible to receive these stipends every year.
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