When the sun rose 10 years ago on a hot August morning, change was in the air.
Bus drivers were heading out on new routes. Nutrition workers were starting from scratch as they planned students’ meals. Principals and teachers were preparing to welcome students back to school with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement.
It was the first day of school, Aug. 26, 2009, in the first school district to be created in Utah in 100 years. It was a day of excitement, electricity—and in all honesty, a little bit of anxiety. It’s a day Canyons School District will never forget. As we celebrate the start of Canyons’ 10th school year, we’re taking stock of the highlights of a decade of educational excellence where, from that first sunrise, the focus has been on student achievement, innovation, community engagement, customer service and fiscal responsibility.
“In the 10 years since Canyons School District opened its doors, a lot has happened,” said Canyons Board of Education President Sherril Taylor, who has served on the board since its creation. “From communities to curriculum—even down to the landscape—there have been many changes. We are proud of what we have accomplished, and we are proud to offer a world-class education to our students. We have come so far, and the best is yet to come for our Canyons District family.”
Canyons’ tradition of rolling out a red carpet to greet students on the first day of school began 10 years ago on the first day of school. It signified a new beginning, an emphasis on helping every student become college-and career-ready and the idea that student success is the driving motivator in all that Canyons does.
From that time, Canyons has focused energy and resources across the District to bolster students and educators in their endeavors. Key accomplishments from the last decade include:
From 2010-2017, Canyons built eight new schools, extensively renovated four schools, and started work on the 13th and final renovation project made possible by a $250 million bond approved by voters in 2010. Other schools received seismic and other safety upgrades, cooling systems, and other improvements. This was done without raising taxes and while maintaining the District’s AAA bond rating.
Since its inception, Canyons has given teachers some kind of compensation increase, a cost-of-living or step increase, or both—even during the Great Recession. In the past two years alone, teacher pay has risen by double digits, including a $5,000 bump in the starting teacher salary.
In 2011, Canyons introduced the state’s first differentiated, or Advanced and Honors, diplomas to signal students’ preparedness for college by requiring them to complete more rigorous coursework. In 2018, nearly 65 percent of students who graduated from traditional high school earned Honors or Advanced diplomas.
In 2013, Canyons’ schools were reconfigured to move sixth-graders into middle school and ninth-graders into high school. The change created a more clearly defined four-year path to graduation in high school, and made it possible for middle schools to focus on meeting the needs of 6-8th graders during a time dramatic physical, intellectual and emotional development.
In 2015, Canyons created Diamond Ridge High, an alternative school for 16- to 18-year-old students who require a non-traditional setting.
In 2016, Hillcrest High launched a summer academy to help freshman excel in their first, make-or-break year and beyond. Students receive four hours of daily instruction in math, science, English and geography, throughout the summer, earning credits and cash incentives sponsored by the United Way of Greater Salt Lake. The nationally-recognized program is helping to bridge the achievement gap at Hillcrest, and has given rise to a similar program at Jordan High.
In 2016, a supplemental kindergarten instruction program was introduced to provide extra academic options to the community. With this opt-in, tuition-based program, kindergarteners receive nearly four additional hours of instruction every school day.
In 2017, the first cohort of students from Alta High participated in a partnership program between the University of Utah and Canyons District called Step2theU. Students began coursework during the summer of their junior year, and will have two complete semesters of college credit by the time they begin university.
In 2017, voters approved a $283 million bond to rebuild six schools, including Brighton and Hillcrest high schools, build one new elementary school in west Draper, replace portables with classrooms at Corner Canyon high, remodel Alta high, and remodel offices at six elementary schools. The bond also will pay to install windows and skylights for natural lighting at 18 elementary schools.
Canyons District’s K-8 students continue to outperform their Utah peers on year-end SAGE tests, in some areas by as many as 13 percentage points.
Our high school seniors also outperform their Utah peers, with a higher percentage meeting college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT college entrance exam.
From the first day Canyons became a district on July 1, 2009, teachers, administrators, and the Canyons Board of Education have brought passion, creativity, and a mindset that anything is possible to Canyons’ communities. The last 10 years have been remarkable, but all eyes are on the future. To the passing of a decade and herald the start of another, we’ve unveiled a new District logo, and have planned some community events for later in the year.
“When I first came to Canyons District five years ago I was impressed at how much had been accomplished in a few short years,” CSD’s Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe said. “We have continued putting students first, and working with the community. I think it’s had a huge impact. If we keep working together, there’s no end to what we can do.”