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It’s the equivalent of the power rankings in prep sports — except it’s for academics. Fourteen students representing all of Canyons District's five traditional high schools have been named semi-finalists in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship program. 

They join about 16,000 other top scholars who this week advanced in the prestigious competition to vie for 7,500 scholarships worth $32 million. These coveted college recruits were chosen from 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. The students and their schools are:  

ALTA HIGH
Nathan L. Brown

BRIGHTON
Joshua R. Brodbeck

CORNER CANYON
August W. Burton
Aaron B. Jackson

HILLCREST
Richard Abbott
Bryson V. Armstrong
Mohammed F. Khan
Chu Un Kim
Kara Komarnitsky
Madeline K. Martin
Joshua S. Raty
Alexander K. Sun
Vivek Vankayalapati

JORDAN
Daniel J. Ross
It’s officially fall in Canyons District — that special time of year when the leaves start to change, the sun sinks out of the sky earlier each day, and the unmistakable sight of campaign signs dot the valley.

As Tuesday, Sept 26 marks National Voter Registration Day, the advent of fall means something new for Canyons students who are 18 — the legal age to vote. This November will be the first time 364 Canyons students will have the opportunity to make a choice in the upcoming election. From mayoral candidates to a $283 million tax-rate-neutral bond proposal by Canyons District, those Canyons students will have their voices heard with their votes this year.

“I plan to register,” said Hillcrest High senior Boston Iacobazzi. “I think it’s just great to have a voice and know you can influence something with your right to vote rather than just experiencing it and not having any say in what’s going on.”

National Voter Registration Day is a national holiday that was first observed in 2012. It is always held on the fourth Tuesday of September. The aim of the holiday is to motivate Americans to register to vote before they miss the deadline and lose eligibility to vote in the election. Individuals can register online, at vote.utah.gov, or by mailing in a voter registration ballot available at city and county offices.

In Salt Lake County this year, the deadline for registering by mail is Oct. 10. Online registration is available until Oct. 31. Voters can request mail-in ballots until Nov. 2. The general election takes place on Nov. 7. 

One item on the ballot this year is a $283 million tax-rate-neutral bond proposed by Canyons District to rebuild and renovate its aging schools.

If voters approve the bond on Nov. 7, the District will rebuild Brighton and Hillcrest high schools; Union Middle; Midvalley and Peruvian Park elementary schools and a White City-area elementary school. The Canyons Board of Education also approved a plan to build a new elementary school in west Draper; renovate a significant part of Alta High, including the addition of a state-of-the-art auditorium and gymnasium; replace portables with classrooms at Corner Canyon High, remodel offices at six elementary schools; and install windows and skylights at 18 elementary schools. 

Canyons’ 18-year-old students have a special insight into the needs of their schools, says Corner Canyon senior Emily Boyce. Boyce says she is excited about making a difference with her vote.

“Unlike the adults that make the decisions, we actually go here and we have classes in portables,” Boyce said. “We actually know what is going on in this school and that could help future classes have a better place.”
Seventy-eight percent of Canyons District’s elementary and middle schools received an A or B this year under Utah’s school grading system — an increase of five percentage points over 2016.

Conversely, the number of CSD’s elementary and middle schools to earn C’s and D’s fell by six percentage points, according to data released Monday, Sept. 25 by the Utah State Board of Education.

The academic gains mostly reflect improved SAGE test scores, explained Canyons District’s Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson, Ph.D. “Our teachers and school administrators should be extremely proud. It takes years of training, effective teacher collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to research-backed instructional strategies to boost student achievement and move the needle on school grades.”

Among the CSD schools to show the most growth are two highly-impacted Title I schools. Sandy Elementary jumped from a C to a B, and East Midvale rose from a D to a B.

“Jumping two letter grades is extremely rare. The student growth at East Midvale and gains in science achievement are really commendable,” Sanderson says.

East Midvale Principal Justin Pitcher credits the discipline and stamina of his teachers. Three years ago, East Midvale experienced a massive turnover in staff and had to hire 23 new educators. “Those faculty, in collaboration with their more tenured colleagues, have very worked hard to create an environment at this school where all students feel safe and inspired to learn. Their goal isn’t to improve test scores. It’s to ensure that students master foundational concepts before moving on to the next subject, and they’ve committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

Utah’s school grading system was established by the Legislature, and the first grades to be published were for the 2012-13 school year. Each school’s grade, which can be found online, is primarily based on year-end test scores. Schools are awarded points for students who meet grade-level benchmarks and for students who show substantial growth. Additionally factoring into high school grades are graduation rates and ACT scores.

The State Board of Education also released PACE data. PACE was implemented in 2014 as part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s plan to ensure Utah is on pace to have 66 percent of all working-age Utahns hold a post-secondary degree or certification by the year 2020.

There is considerable overlap between the PACE accountability report and School Grading. Key differences largely center on the points students and schools can earn for growth in academic achievement and college-readiness measures.

Eighty-three percent of the elementary schools and 75 percent of middle schools in CSD are above the state average in achievement as calculated by PACE. In terms of growth, 66 percent of elementary schools and 63 percent of middle schools in CSD showed higher growth than schools averaged statewide.

To view individual school PACE or School Grading reports, please visit the State Office of Education’s Data Gateway



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The City of Midvale has officially expressed support for a school improvement bond that Canyons District is asking voters to consider on Election Day.

“The City Council feels it is in the best interests of the City and its residents to support the Bond Proposal,” which would generate funds without raising taxes to “rebuild and remodel several schools as well as install windows and skylights for natural lighting at several more schools,” reads a resolution approved by the Midvale City Council on Sept. 19. The resolution was signed by all five council members and Mayor JoAnn Seghini.

Canyons District has made strides toward addressing $650 million in repair and safety upgrade needs inherited from a predecessor school district in 2009. Next fall’s completion of the remodel of Indian Hills Middle will be the 13th and final project promised to voters as part of a 2010 bond. Passing a second bond would allow the District to improve and modernize an additional 27 schools benefitting 17,000 children, while adequately planning for growth.

A detailed list of the improvement projects that would be made possible by the bond can be found on CSD’s website.



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The recognized parent group for Canyons’ schools has endorsed the District’s $283 million tax-rate-neutral bond proposal that voters are being asked to consider this Election Day. 

The Board of the Canyons’ Region 17 PTA, which encompasses all Parent-Teacher and Parent-Teacher-Student Associations within the District, voted Tuesday, Sept 12 to publicly support the measure, which would generate funds to build and renovate schools. 

The endorsement reflects the trust and support that Cottonwood Heights, Sandy, Draper, Midvale and Alta families have placed in our schools, teachers and staff, said CSD Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe. “We are fortunate to live in a forward-thinking community that puts children first and that values education.”

Canyons District has made strides toward addressing $650 million in repair and safety upgrade needs inherited from a predecessor school district in 2009. Next fall’s completion of the remodel of Indian Hills Middle will be the 13th and final project promised to voters as part of a 2010 bond. Passing a second bond would allow the District to improve and modernize an additional 27 schools benefitting 17,000 children.

“The success of our children is directly linked to the success of our schools. All Canyons District students deserve safe and healthy learning environments wired for the demands of today’s high-tech educational standards,” said PTA Region 17 Director Tonya Rhodes said. “The Board of Education has wisely committed to turn dirt in every corner of the District while focusing on the oldest schools with the highest-priority safety needs, and they’re designing the bond so that it won’t raise property taxes. It’s a fiscally-sensible plan that will benefit generations of children to come.”

A detailed list of the improvement projects that would be made possible by the bond can be found on CSD’s website.
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