A teacher committed to seeing that all students thrive, no matter the difficulties they face. A lawmaker who knows public education from the inside out. An administrator who is boosting student achievement one apple at a time. Two mayors who put their reputations on the line to support the creation of the first new school district in Utah in 100 years.
These are but a few of the 12 outstanding individuals and community partners to be honored Sept. 12, 2017 at CSD’s eighth annual Apex Awards banquet. The Apex Award is the highest honor given by Canyons District’s administration and the Board of Education. It is reserved for the makers, shakers and disrupters who have contributed to neighborhood schools in extraordinary ways, and who have made a lasting difference.
Winners are selected following a months-long public nomination process and were announced at a by-invitation-only dinner at The Gathering Place at Gardner Village.
“We host this event every year to pay tribute to those in our community who have stood should-to-shoulder with us as we have worked to deliver a world-class education,” said Board President Sherril Taylor. “Whether your jobs are in a classroom or at the State Capitol, you have taken to heart the sentiments that it takes a village to raise a child, that many hands make light work, that teamwork, as so eloquently stated by Andrew Carnegie, ‘is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.'”
The 2017 Apex Award winners are:
2017 Apex Award winner for Teacher of the Year
The fun in Union Middle teacher Drew Fosse’s class begins at the door, where he greets each student individually and chats with them about their lives and hobbies and it gets better from there. He keeps his students engaged in a way that inspires his fellow teachers, even if it’s just through the sounds that drift through Fosse’s door and down the hallway. Fosse began his teaching career 10 years ago in a tiny Oregon town. After living in other small towns and working as an administrator at a school for teens who have been hospitalized for mental illnesses, he returned to teaching, received a special education endorsement and moved to Union Middle where he now oversees a mainstream classroom. His goal is to make sure that all of his students thrive in his class, no matter what difficulties they face. “I want them to be brave,” Fosse says. “I want them to feel it’s better to go ahead and open up your mouth and realize, yeah, you might look stupid, but it doesn’t matter. If you can be brave enough to try different things, you can be brave enough to realize you can make mistakes and keep trying.” It’s for these reasons, and many more, that Drew Fosse is being honored by the Canyons Board of Education as the 2017 Apex Award winner for Teacher of the Year.
Alta View Elementary Principal Karen Medlin
2017 Apex Award winner for School Administrator of the Year
Don’t let Karen Medlin’s meek and mild-mannered demeanor fool you. Although she’s as warm and welcoming as her smile suggests, she also possesses stronger-than-steel strength and determination. On any given day, she’ll take a minute from her busy schedule to hug first-graders who come running to her in the hallways, arms outstretched, only to turn around and have frank yet friendly conversations with the workers who are finishing the landscaping at her new school. The principal of Alta View Elementary has spent the past several years working with architects and construction workers on the facility. She’s pored over designs, taken input from teachers, listened to parents, and followed her heart as she led the charge to build a school in White City that would stand as a beacon for light and learning for decades to come. Her smile rarely faltered, not even during the dusty and muddy year of construction, when the school community made way for the tractors and trucks on the building site. But she’s a survivor in so many ways, and she knew that tough times don’t last for long. This fall, when students entered the new school for the first time, excited for a year of learning, it was apparent that Medlin’s hard work and dedication and all done with the smile was worth it. The Board of Education is pleased to present the 2017 Apex Award for School Administrator of the Year to Karen Medlin.
Nutrition Services Director Sebasthian Varas
2017 Apex Award winner for District Administrator of the Year
When Sebasthian Varas looks at an apple, he doesn’t see a fruit that falls from a tree. He sees a well-contained vessel of nutrition that would serve nicely as part of lunch or breakfast. Varas, who has served as Canyons’ Director of Nutrition Services since the founding of the District in 2009, knows that students can’t learn if they are hungry. Armed with that belief, he works hard to provide delicious and nutrient-dense foods in Canyons’ cafeterias and classrooms. Long before former first lady Michelle Obama rolled out her national healthy school-lunch initiative, Varas was at the forefront of making vast improvements to the quality of school meals served in Canyons’ cafeterias. He removed deep-fat fryers from kitchens, changed recipes to include whole-grain breads, and pushed forward with his vision of seeing lunchrooms full of children munching happily on tasty fruits and vegetables. Under his guidance, the CSD Nutrition Services Department has piloted successful in-class breakfast programs, worked with the Utah Dairy Council on a campaign to promote milk consumption, and gently and respectfully worked with families on applications for free and reduced- price meals for their children. It’s for these reasons, and more, that the Board of Education is pleased to present the 2017 Apex Award for District Administrator of the Year to Sebasthian Varas.
Susan Henrie, Instructional Specialist
2017 Apex Award winner for Student Support Services Professional of the Year
Like education, great writing ignites the imagination. It commands your attention. You get lost in it, and when you must put it down, you can’t wait to pick it back up and read it all over again. Indeed, Susan Henrie has sparked a passion for writing instruction within veteran and new teachers alike that has rapidly spread across Canyons District. As the District’s lead English language arts specialist, Susan and her team of instructional coaches have spent years collaboratively honing tools, classroom materials, and grading rubrics to make teaching literacy easier and more fun. It helps that she has plenty of classroom experience as an educator of 35 years. Her calm and friendly demeanor engenders trust and inspires her trainees to risk trying new techniques. Her own desire to learn and improve is contagious as she searches for new ways to lighten the burden of principals and teachers and support them in achieving their visions and goals. She makes a difference for them so they can make a difference for children, and it shows in students’ soaring progress and confidence. For these reasons and more, Susan Henrie has been selected as the 2017 Apex Award winner as Student Support Services Professional of the Year.
2017 Apex Award winner for Education Support Professional of the Year
There are many things Erica Haugen is willing to do to help out at Peruvian Park Elementary School, but being the center of attention isn’t one of them. Even though Haugen, in her humble, dedicated way, is seemingly everywhere at the school, she says she’s far more comfortable working behind the scenes or playing a supporting role. She also isn’t motivated by public accolades or applause. Instead, her prize is quietly working at what she calls the “most rewarding job I’ve ever done in my life.” Haugen started at Peruvian Park four years ago as a neighborhood mom who served on the PTA board, the School Community Council, and in the classroom. She is the school’s new behavioral assistant, but she continues to fill her former roles in the copy room and as an outside recess aide because she sees the need. Haugen serves wherever she is needed, and she delights in wearing many hats. She gives love to students who need attention and she lights up when her young friends run up to her to visit before hitting the playground during valuable recess time. Haugen’s helpfulness, her school spirit, and her multifaceted ability to assist others are all reasons why she has been selected as the 2017 Apex Award winner for Education Support Professional of the Year.
2017 Apex Award winner for Education Support Professional of the Year
Ask Jennifer Bagley what it takes to be an amazing elementary school administrative assistant and she’ll tell you this secret: when in doubt, grab an ice bag. Bagley handles bumps and bruises at Bell View Elementary, but she also helps teachers, administrators, struggling students, sad students, the lunch lady, and even the librarian. And she’s learned that ice is the cure-all for anything. Of course, she also doles out plenty of love, attention and care to everyone who walks through Bell View’s door. When Bagley started at Bell View Elementary 11 years ago, her three sons were students there. She helped as a room mother, was the PTA president, a kindergarten aide, second-grade aide, resource aide and now head secretary. She is known as the first person to arrive and she handles the myriad of needs that arise throughout the day with ease, administering a band-aid here, arranging for an emergency substitute there. She is known as the “light” of the school, an “all-purpose support hero.” Parents love the care she takes to east their apprehensive children into school for the day and coworkers appreciate her positive attitude, thoughtful cards and sense of humor. For all of these reasons and more, Jennifer Bagley has been selected as the 2017 Apex Award winner for Education Support Professional of the Year.
Rep. Marie Poulson
2017 Apex Award winner for Elected Official of the Year
From her seat in the Capitol, Rep. Marie Poulson has a fascinating vantage point on public education. Nearly half of the state’s budget supports schools and the 34,000 educators and 634,000 children who spend their days teaching and learning there. But it is Poulson’s in-the-trenches experience 20-plus years of teaching every grade level from preschool to high school that bring perspective to her policy-making and makes her such a valuable member of Utah’s citizen Legislature. Colleagues trust the Cottonwood Heights Democrat to anticipate the unintended consequences of the bills they debate. Teachers, parents and students rely on her to give voice to their concerns and interests. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that Poulson has developed a knack for reaching across the aisle to build consensus around some of the thorniest issues in education, from year-end testing requirements to the state’s school grading system. Her secret? Poulson practices the civic-mindedness she preached in the classroom by actively seeking out different viewpoints and striving to find common ground. Education, she insists, is not a partisan issue, and public schools are worth fighting for. For her ardent advocacy and impassioned public service, Rep. Marie Poulson has been selected as the 2017 Apex Award winner for Elected Official of the Year.
2017 Apex Award winner for Business Partner of the Year
When students in Canyons District schools wish that they could study lasers and light or learn about colonizing Mars, one company is ready to help make those dreams become a reality. Thanks to RizePoint, a Cottonwood Heights-based software company that’s dedicated to furthering the study of science, technology, engineering and math in schools, students have a chance to expand their world outside of the classroom. For two years, RizePoint, a global leader in providing software solutions in the marketplace, has donated $5,000 to the Canyons Education Foundation to provide scholarships for students to attend STEM camps over the summer. As a result, more than 20 students have attended the camps of their choice, learning about such topics as space, computer science, and oceanography. RizePoint has shown a commitment to help Canyons’ students on every level, through scholarships and by volunteering in the classroom. Their commitment to supporting students in meaningful ways is chief among the reasons that RizePoint has been selected as the 2017 Apex Award winner for Business Partner of the Year.
2017 Apex Award winner for Volunteer of the Year
In college, Rayna Drago studied to be an astronaut. She has worked as a police officer, and for five years portrayed one on television as an actress for the popular daytime drama “General Hospital.” But if you want to catch Rayna Drago in her most recent starring role, you’ll find her at Canyon View Elementary volunteering, fundraising, tutoring and mentoring and you’ll have to sprint to keep up. “Runnin’ Rayna,” as she’s become known, redefined the role of PTA President, all without the benefit of prior experience and also while juggling the demands of raising her kindergarten-age son. With her weekly communications to parents and “I got it” attitude, she harnessed the good will of a community and put it to work supporting students, teachers and staff. An avid marathoner, she started a Girls on the Run program. She also helped launch family movie nights, book swaps, and other enrichment programs at Canyon View. In addition, when needed, she fills in as an aide or substitute teacher. There’s nothing she can’t or won’t do to strengthen her neighborhood school and open up opportunities for students. In recognition of and appreciation for her willingness to so selflessly share her many talents, Rayna Drago has been selected by the Canyons Board of Education as the 2017 Apex Volunteer of the Year.
Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore
2017 Apex Award winner for the Legacy Award
In the years since the official launch of Canyons, there have been few stronger supporters of Canyons District than Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini and Cottonwood Height Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore. Seghini and Cullimore were among the very first to put their reputations and mayoral legacies on the line when they publicly backed the ballot proposal that would create a new school district for the southeastern part of the Salt Lake Valley. To be sure, the two longtime mayors saw and embraced a vision for public education in Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Sandy and the town of Alta. They sought to help build an education system that worked hand-in-hand with municipalities; focused on increasing student-learning levels while also reducing the achievement gap; promoted community engagement, and built modern and welcoming campuses. The duo refused to backtrack, even when political dissension flared and public talk turned personal. They were and are steadfast in their care and concern for all children in CSD. Today, one decade after the successful vote to create the District, Canyons is considered a success story in so many ways. But it’s a story that would not have been possible without the leadership, tenacity, and foresight of Cullimore and Seghini. It’s for these reasons, and many more, that it’s the honor of the Canyons Board of Education to award the 2017 Legacy Award to Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini and Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore.
External Affairs Director Charlie Evans
2017 Apex Award winner for the Legacy Award
There are a few key moments from world history highlighted on the wall of Charlie Evans’ office: a view of the earth from Apollo 13, a view of soldiers heading into the battle of Dunkirk, and an image of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. To Evans, these are moments of inspiration moments that required courage and dedication. Those are the same qualities Evans brings to battle day after day on behalf of the students in Canyons District. Through his efforts as Canyons’ Director of External Relations, Evans has worked behind the scenes to fight proposed legislation that would have funneled millions away from Canyons’ classrooms. He influences policy at the local and regional level, and fosters collaborative relationships with representatives in the Legislature and nearby municipalities. Under his leadership, Canyons District passed a $250 million bond at the height of a Great Recession, launched successful fundraising campaigns through the Canyons Education Foundation, and played an integral part of building Canyons’ reputation, even against great odds. Evans has indelibly shaped Canyons District through his commitment to Canyons’ various constituencies. For these reasons, and more, the Canyons Board of Education is pleased to present to him the 2017 Legacy Award.
Photos from the Apex Awards Banquet