In special education, small successes lead to big successes, and they happen every single day with an exceptional group of teachers celebrating along the way.

In October, Canyons District takes a moment to recognize those who give so much of themselves to ensure all children reach their potential. Over the past few weeks, CSD’s Special Education Department visited schools to surprise nine educators and related service providers with Exceptional Service Awards.

This year’s awardees are exemplary of caliber of instruction delivered each day with patience and care in schools throughout the District.
 
Julie Lott Julie Lott, Hillcrest High

Julie Lott puts in extra hours to make sure Hillcrest’s special education students complete all the courses they’ll need to graduate, often arriving to school 45 minutes early and staying 2-5 hours after the final bell rings. As the Department Lead, she also goes above and beyond to support her peers, working with special and general education teachers alike to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to meeting students’ needs. Parents look to her as a sounding board, and appreciate her calm, commonsense approach to solving problems. Administrators value her selfless approach to leadership, and morale-building spirit.


Nikki Spoto, Hillcrest High

Like many special education teachers, Nikki Spoto advocates for her students. It’s important to her that the students on her caseload are fairly challenged and supported toward reaching their educational goals, which often means consulting with her peers on team-approaches to classroom accommodations. She’s respected by her fellow faculty members for her knowledge and skill — but also for her big heart. When she’s not at school, she’s finding ways to serve her community; most recently in working to become certified to adopt children with disabilities and other special needs.
Nicole Spoto


Andrea Miller Andrea Miller, Park Lane Elementary

Andrea Miller has an unassuming manner for someone with 20 years of experience. Perhaps it’s the Speech Language Pathologist’s never-say-die attitude, or the fact that she’s ever on the hunt for new interventions like the grant she applied for last year to purchase a curriculum she thought would help some of her learners while also exposing them to technology. She never complains, even when the workload is heavy as it so often is. She welcomes every student into her room and strives to meet them on their level, and she’s the first to remember a staff member’s birthday or offer condolences to ease a friend’s loss.


Linda Tognoni, Park Lane Elementary

Not a moment of learning is lost in Linda Tognoni’s Accommodated Core classroom. Every minute of every hour is devoted to helping students progress academically while also teaching them to make good choices and be the boss of themselves. With her kind, welcoming demeanor and masterful classroom management skills, Tognoni can keep students on task whether they are working in small groups, reading silently, or being introduced to a new concept. She sets a new goal each week, and students are rising to meet those goals, having achieved three-to-five-star growth on benchmark tests this year.
Linda Tognoni


Madison Thorpe Madison Thorpe, Peruvian Park Elementary

Simply put, Madison Thorpe exemplifies what it means to teach. She does not view her resource room as a final destination. Combined with an unwavering belief in her students, the research-backed teaching practices she artfully deploys have helped many a student regain lost ground and exit special education services. She has high expectations for her students, and time and again, they rise to the challenge. In so doing, she has helped students chart a new path for themselves while also helping others to see special education differently.


Lauren Schriner, Adapted Physical Education Teacher

As an itinerant teacher, Lauren Schriner doesn’t belong to a specific school. She brings adaptive sports and physical education to all schools toward ensuring all students benefit from the gross motor development and fitness associated with getting up and moving. In the short amount of time she’s been with Canyons District, she has built a website for her department, updated neglected paperwork and fine-tuned the referral process. Her classroom teachers love her because she comes prepared with lesson plans geared toward helping individual students reach specific goals. Students love her because she puts the fun in fitness. The new Ga-Ga Ball game she developed for Adapted Sports Day may well be the most popular of all time — at least, until she brainstorms something new for next year.
Laura Schriner


Ashton Luneke Ashton Luneke, Bell View Elementary

It’s one thing to set ambitious goals, and quite another to achieve them. Ashton Luneke does both. She set her sights last year on having nearly 80 percent of her students reach proficiency in grade-level phonics and word analysis skills — a feat she achieved through no small amount of work, and may well exceed this year. Luneke was able to move six of her students back into less-restrictive, mainstream classes in their neighborhood schools. Additionally, she coordinated a week-long event to create awareness for Autism at Bell View, and is a trusted ally and resource for parents.


Lisa Hayes, Silver Mesa Elementary

The best teachers are master jugglers who, like Lisa Hayes, can remind a student to use complete sentences while coaxing another to maintain eye contact and motioning to a third to be silent while teaching a new concept in science or math. For Hayes, it all comes down to building a welcoming classroom where everyone is expected to treat one another with respect. But her peers will say she also has an uncanny ability to use data to reflect on what’s working in the classroom and make adjustments to remedy what’s not working. She has an affinity for technology and willingly shares her expertise. She also works to promote inclusion, and is the first to pitch in to help a teammate or take on a new assignment or task.
Lisa Hayes


Julie Humphrey, Oak Hollow Elementary

Julie Humphrey does all she can to support students, parents and teachers. Parents feel safe and included when meeting one-on-one with her to keep apprised of their student’s progress. She secures resources for families and introduces them to special education in a manner that’s both informative and child-centered. She has provided training for teachers, too, and encouraged greater teamwork among her peers to improve morale and instruction for students. Communication has improved and Oak Hollow’s resource program has been nothing short of revitalized.
Most teachers go into education to make a difference. But nowhere is that difference as readily apparent than in special education, believes Stacey Nofsinger.

“There is nothing better than seeing your student finally grasp a concept that maybe you were working on for six weeks or six months. …to finally see them say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what you meant?’” says the teaching specialist. “It’s very exciting to be part of that educational journey for kids.”

Is it a tough job? It can be, admits Nofsinger noting how it requires you to be adept at planning, writing goals, developing interventions, and meeting timelines. But she says, the rewards far outweigh the demands—especially considering the financial incentives that Canyons District now makes available.  

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, says CSD’s Special Education Director Misty Suarez. “These stipends aren’t just a one-time deal. Qualified teachers are eligible to receive them every year, which has given us a real recruiting edge. I can’t think of a better time to consider a career in special education.”



February and March mark the start of the hiring season for Utah’s public schools, and Canyons District has plenty of special ed job openings, including about half-a-dozen full-time teaching positions, and more than a dozen full-time or part-time paraeducator positions. 

The Office of Special Education & Related Services also has positions open for instructional coaches, specialists, and speech-language pathologists, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for advancement.

For Nofsinger, the job is more of a calling than a career, and she now delights in supporting others who have chosen the same path. The New York native chose Utah’s Canyons School District because of the District’s investment in teacher supports, such as the coaching she now provides. 

“As a teacher, we still need to keep learning for our students and to implement our own best practices,” says Nofsinger, a New York native who chose Utah’s Canyons District for its investment in teacher supports, such as the coaching she now provides. “Canyons District’s philosophy in making sure their teachers are modeling that and continuing their own education and getting that professional development on a regular basis really spoke to my own philosophies in education.”

Find out what Canyons District has to offer you at this stage in your career: canyonsdistrict.org/hr
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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Misty Suarez doesn’t mince words. She believes there is no better place to teach special education than Utah’s Canyons School District (CSD).

“We have it all: Competitive salaries, coaching supports, professional development, and a focus on innovation coupled with the resources to help make it happen,” says Canyons District’s Special Education Director. “And there are as few places as safe, affordable and beautiful as the Wasatch Front to live, work, and raise a family. It’s the full package.”

CSD also has plenty of special ed job openings — 16 full-time positions and 12 part-time paraeducator positions — and as an added incentive to fill them, a new stipend for qualified special education teachers. “Like most states, we’re grappling with a teacher shortage that is especially acute in special education, math and science. The greatest need we have is in our elementary schools,” Suarez says. “The $4,100 stipend recently approved by state lawmakers will give us a real recruiting edge.”

Teaching is a demanding job, even for the most skilled educators, and particularly for those who work in special education. Special education teachers need to be adept at planning, writing goals, developing interventions, and meeting timelines.

But Canyons District’s Special Education Teacher Specialist Stacey Nofsinger says the rewards of the job far outweigh the demands. “There is nothing better than seeing your student finally grasp a concept that maybe you were working on for six weeks or six months. …to finally see them say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what you meant?’ It’s very exciting to be part of that educational journey for kids.”



For her, the job is more of a calling than a career, and now she delights in supporting others who have chosen the same path. The New York native chose Utah’s Canyons School District because of the District’s investment in teacher supports, such as the coaching she now provides.

Now, to further sweeten the deal, the Utah Legislature has approved a $4,100 yearly stipend for special education teachers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in special education. This comes on top of a double-digit percentage increase in teacher pay approved last year by Canyons District’s Board of Education. 

“As a teacher, we still need to keep learning for our students and to implement our own best practices. And Canyons District’s philosophy in making sure their teachers are modeling that and continuing their own education and getting that professional development on a regular basis really spoke to my own philosophies in education,” Nofsinger says. For more information about the stipend click here.

Find out what Canyons District has to offer you at this stage in your career: canyonsdistrict.org/hr
Anyone looking for information about autism and Aspergers Syndrome is welcome to attend a series of classes offered by the Office of Special Education at Canyons District.

The classes, which are taught by Melisa Geneaux, a consultant and trainer who focuses on autism spectrum disorders, will cover behavior strategies for home and school, executive functioning strategies and how to cope with anxiety and depression. Geneaux works with school districts across the country, providing support for parents and teachers looking for help with behavior and classroom management, social skills instruction and special education legal compliance. Supplemental materials and resources will be distributed at each class.

The classes, which are free and open to the public, will take place on March 22 and April 13 from 4:15-7 p.m. at the Canyons Administration Building East, 9361 S. 300 East. To register, contact Shela Barker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your name, phone number and the dates you wish to attend with the words “Focus on Autism” written in the subject line.

 Teachers may register online through ontrack using course #61843 at https://usoe.truenorthlogic.com

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