Help wanted.

A Canyons District program that helps adult special-education students gain the skills necessary to live independently is looking for business partners that would be willing to provide on-site job training for men and women who need just a little extra help to do big things.   

Nate Edvalson, a program administrator in Canyons’ Special Education Department, says business of all kinds and sizes can aid the efforts of the Canyons Transition Academy, which holds classes for students 18- to 22-years-old who have aged-out of the school system but still need more vocational and social-skills training. 

“I can’t say enough good things about the businesses who give our students a chance.  It’s obviously a little more work to hire a person with disabilities,” he says. “The biggest requirement, I think, is understanding and patience. Our students are eager to learn and are excited to take on all kinds of tasks.  They need explicit instruction, and it may take a few times to get it right, but in time our students turn out to be valuable employees.” 

Take, for example, the task of busing tables.  It may seem menial to some employees, he says, but Canyons Transition Academy participants approach the task with enthusiasm because they feel like someone believes in them to do a job that is vital to the restaurant, Edvalson said during a segment on ABC4's "Good Morning Utah."  Students also have been provided work opportunities in such industries as car detailing, tire removal and repair, vehicle repair and maintenance, and food preparation and service, he says.

The academy is grateful for partnerships with such organizations as O.C. Tanner, Walmart, Utah Co-Op, Draper Senior Center, and the Larry H. Miller organization. Some restaurants and public libraries have signed up to participate, and some CTA students work in custodial jobs at Canyons District schools and central offices.

Still, more community partners are needed to provide a wide array of experiences for the students.  Interested business owners can contact Edvalson via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“Our students are reliable, excited to work, willing to learn and do any tasks.  The teachers and staff at the Canyons Transition Academy also can work with the students during class on skills the students will need to use at their jobs,” he said.  “The businesses are enriched because of the variety of working staff they will have.  Their commitment to including all parts of the community in their business will be visible to everybody in the community.”
Educators today are preoccupied with how to keep pace with their tech-savvy students, a generation of digital natives who were born into an era of instant connectivity and raised with technology-centered learning styles and expectations.

But there still exist a good number of students whose only exposure to technology is at school, which presents a different challenge.

“In the rush to making sure our schools are equipped for the high-tech demands of a 21st Century education, we need to be careful about leaving some students behind,” says Canyons District’s Information Technology Director Scot McCombs. “We need to also be working to bridge the digital divide.”

Earlier this month, the Canyons Board of Education approved a plan proposed by McCombs to aid those students for whom the divide is the greatest—the 3,500, or 10 percent, who have no access to computing devices or the Internet at home. Through a T-Mobile Empower 2.0 grant, the District intends to make computing devices available to these students, starting with 430 high school students, in much the same way that libraries check-out books, except for a more extended period of time. The grant also will cover half the cost of making hotspots available to the students so that they have Internet access at home. The remainder of the costs may also be partially covered through Utah’s Digital Teaching and Learning Grant.chromebook

“Technology is ubiquitous. It’s how we access knowledge, connect with one another, and make daily decisions, from crunching spreadsheets at work to finding a doctor or ordering pizza for delivery,” says McCombs. “I take for granted that I can access the Library of Congress on my phone, but some of our students don’t have the means. Without Internet access, how can we begin to address other technological inequities?”

Indeed, the digital divide means things for different students. Some are savvy users of social media, video games, and apps, but struggle to discern trustworthy from untrustworthy sources of information on the Internet. Some may be comfortable using software commonly encountered in the workplace, such as spreadsheets and word-processing programs, while others are coding and writing sophisticated software programs as teenagers.

But a survey of Canyons District families conducted by McCombs revealed that, for a surprising number of students—10 percent—the divide is even greater than that, largely due to the unaffordability of devices and wifi. “First thing’s first,” he says, “if students don’t have access to a computer or the Internet from home, it’s harder for them to complete assignments and keep up with homework, much less learn to be good digital citizens.”

Devices will be made available based on financial need and checked out to students who meet poverty guidelines. There will be safeguards. Students will be asked to sign an agreement that outlines the appropriate use of the device, and the hotspots will be filtered using the same technology used to limit Internet browsing on the District’s school campuses.

But an experimental check-out program at Crescent Elementary showed students are generally careful with their devices and respectful of the appropriate-use guidelines. What’s more, having the devices at home helped boost their performance at school. 

“Providing students with access to technology has been a game-changer for some of our students who have faced the biggest obstacles to success,” says Crescent Principal Camie Montague.

This past November, Crescent checked out devices to 15 special education students and English language learners who had no Internet access at home. The expectation was that they would all spend 80 minutes a week completing their homework in core subjects. 

At the time, none of these students are were on track to meet grade-level standards of learning by June. Now, 14 are on track to meet or exceed the standards.

“We talk about how the printing press changed history and democratized how people access knowledge. Today, the Internet is how we access information, and to deny some students that access is just wrong,” McCombs says. “For me, this project is truly a labor of love. I view this as one of the most important things I’ll do here during my tenure at Canyons.”

McCombs hopes to have the computing devices and hotspots shipped to high schools and ready for check-out in time for the next trimester. 
Canyons District’s graduation rate has reached a new high. Over the past seven years, the percent of high school seniors to graduate has climbed steadily to surpass the state average, rising from 83 percent in 2011 to 89 percent in 2018—an increase largely driven by the achievement of a group of students who typically face the greatest obstacles to academic success.

All of Canyons’ five traditional high schools have reason to celebrate. But Jordan and Hillcrest stand out with the biggest gains, buoyed by the success of low-income and minority students and English language learners. “What’s most compelling about these numbers is that it’s not just a one- or two-year bump. We’re talking about significant, sustained improvement,” says CSD’s Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson, Ph.D.

GradRateOverall copySome of the improvement is attributed to the reconfiguration of CSD’s high schools to house grades 9-12. Doing so provided students with a more clearly-defined four-year path to graduation while also giving ninth-graders earlier exposure to more rigorous coursework. But the data suggest there’s also something else at work. 

“This isn’t about a shiny new educational program, it’s about providing students—all students—what they need to succeed,” says Jordan High Principal Wendy Dau. “Students want to be seen and heard. They need role models who believe they can rise to high expectations and who can constructively help them overcome challenges. They need someone in their corner.”

With 31 percent of Canyons’ students qualifying as low-income, and 16 percent identifying as members of an ethnic minority group, District leaders recognized early the importance of working to close the achievement gap. “Since its inception in 2009, the District has embraced a vision of 100 percent student success,” says Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt.

All student groups in Canyons District, including those with disabilities, are graduating in greater numbers. But the number of diploma-earning Hispanic and Latino students in CSD has grown at an especially steep rate, by a whopping 18 percentage points from 60 percent in 2011 to 78 percent in 2018. Students from low-income families and those learning English for the first time, also showed pronounced gains.

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Jordan and Hillcrest have implemented new programs to engage at-risk students during the summer as they transition from middle school to high school, but those programs are too new to have influenced graduation numbers. The reason for the students’ success may reach beyond grade reconfiguration and summer boot camps. 

“It really comes down to an every-day focus, and being disciplined about keeping tabs on school attendance, grades, and disciplinary issues, as well as building trusting relationships with students,” Leavitt says.

Hillcrest, for example, assigns struggling students to administrators who monitor their progress and check-in with them weekly. The school regularly sends credit reports to all parents, which map students’ progress toward graduation. They’ve built a 40-minute block of time into the school day for students to meet with faculty, seek extra help, and catch-up on homework. And they offer a credit-recovery lab where students can make up for lost time.

“Students, some of them newcomers to this country, who, because they come from devastating circumstances don’t have complete educational records, are able to earn original credit through this program,” Leavitt says.

Counselors at Hillcrest and Jordan also work to connect students and their families with social-emotional supports andpublic aid programs.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one student may not work for another,” says Dau. “But being organized about monitoring student progress is as non-negotiable as having committed teachers who choose to believe all students are capable of doing hard things.”

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The past year has been a period of momentous change and milestones achieved for Canyons District.

The fall of 2018 marked the start of CSD’s 10th school year and the conclusion of a fiscal year that ended $6 million under-budget. Canyons completed the 13th and final school improvement project promised to the public in 2010 when voters approved a $250 million tax-rate-neutral bond, and broke ground on the first three projects promised to voters with passage of a new bond in 2017. The Board added another pay raise to an already progressive salary schedule to aid in hiring and retaining the best teachers, and invested in new safety measures and tools to keep our classrooms welcoming, safe and secure.

We celebrated Peruvian Park Elementary's designation as a Blue Ribbon School, honored inspirational colleagues and cheered our students who graduated in greater numbers than ever before and excelled in sports and the arts.

Reflecting on the past decade, Board of Education President Sherril H. Taylor said in a farewell message to Canyons District patrons: “With every passing year, we've continued to build, strengthen, and fortify. Student achievement and new schools have risen, improved school-to-home connections were established, and student performances on stages and athletic fields drew cheers and championships. Looking back, I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to realize, walking hand in hand and standing shoulder to shoulder. ”

Here are a few of the most memorable moments from 2018:

•   The Board funded the districtwide implementation of a new school safety tool known as DIR-S, or “duress.” With a push of a button, the app allows teachers and staff members in an emergency to give an immediate update on their status through a mobile device or computer, providing everyone, including administrators and law enforcement officers, with the real-time information needed to ascertain the source and location of a threat.

•   The District hired more counselors and school psychologists, and opened a youth academy for secondary students who need extra academic and behavioral support.

•   CSD students outperformed their Utah peers on most year-end SAGE tests, in some areas by as many as 12 percentage points. Four students earned a perfect score of 36 on the ACT college entrance exam. The District’s graduation rate rose three percentage points to 89 percent, and the number of students who take and pass Advanced Placement exams for college credit continued its upward trajectory.

•   Peruvian Park Elementary was named by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School.

•   The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages honored CSD’s Dual Language Immersion Program with its prestigious Melba D. Woodruff Award for exemplary elementary Foreign Language programs.

•   Midway into the school year, individual student athletes and teams have claimed five state championship titles: Corner Canyon won 5A football, 5A boys cross country, and 5A girls soccer; Alta High’s Emilee Astle won the 5A state championship in girls singles tennis; and Corner Canyon’s Lizzie Simmons and Emma Heiden won 5A girls doubles. Additionally, Corner Canyon’s mountain biking team took first place at a non-sanctioned state championship event.

•   The Theatre Departments at Hillcrest and Corner Canyon shared the podium as sweepstakes winners in the Utah High School Shakespeare competition.

•   Twenty-six students earned Academic All-State honors in fall sports for excelling athletically and academically.

•   Eighteen high school seniors were named National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalists.

•   Midvalley student Ashlyn Phillips was named Utah Playworks’ Junior Coach of the Year.

•   A major renovation of Indian Hills Middle was completed in time for the start of school, the 13th and final project promised to the public in 2010 when voters approved a $250 million tax-rate-neutral bond.

•   Crews began work on rebuilds of Brighton and Hillcrest high schools and a major renovation of Alta High, the largest and most complicated of many more projects financed by the $283 million bond approved by voters in 2017.

•   A record number of volunteers (12,952) contributed hundreds-of-thousands of hours of service to CSD’s classrooms, and 6.3 million people visited Canyons District’s websites.

•   Five CSD employee were applauded for their extraordinary work: Morgan Brown, Alta High Athletic Director, 2018 Athletic Director of the Year; Stephanie Johnston, Hillcrest High counselor, Rookie Counselor of the Year; Connie Crosby, CSD homeless student liaison, Utah School Counselors Human Rights Award; Mark Mataya, Diamond Ridge and Entrada Assistant Principal, Outstanding Adult Educator Award; and Kevin Ray, CSD Risk Management Coordinator, and Kierstin Draper, Canyon View Elementary Principal, Think Safe Award.
It’s parent-teacher conference season in Utah, a ritual dating back at least 50 years. More than half-a-million of these meetings are planned statewide in the coming weeks, which amounts to a big investment of time and energy on behalf of schools and families.

So, how parents get the most out of this opportunity for facetime with faculty? What kinds of questions should they be asking? Are these meet-and-greets even still relevant or useful in today's hyper-connected world where parents are signing up to receive daily electronic homework reminders, tardy notices, and report card updates? 

"As a mother, if my child is sick and needs to stay home for the day, I can email the teacher for missed assignments or log in to an online portal to print out homework instructions. Schools have made it very easy for parents to communicate with teachers and keep smallkidstabs on their children's progress," acknowledges Colleen Smith, a longtime principal and now Administrator of Canyons School District’s Responsive Services Department. "But there are still those questions or concerns that are best discussed in a face-to-face meeting with the teacher. If anything, I’d say parent-teacher conferences today are more productive and meaningful because parents are coming into them already front-loaded with information about their child’s progress. The limited amount of time they have with the teacher can then be spent zeroing in on one or two issues of importance."

First, and foremost, Smith urges parents do their homework. "Take some time before the parent-teacher conference to review your child’s work and to ask your child about his or her experience at school, and then come prepared with a few questions," she says. "Maybe you want to know what your child’s year-end math scores mean and how they were calculated. You might ask about how much homework to expect. Or, perhaps your child is struggling, and you’d like to know more about the school’s process for identifying and supporting students with special needs."

smallgreetTeachers are prepared to fill the allotted time by reviewing a portfolio of a child’s work, grades, and test scores. But Smith says, "If you’ve got specific questions, they’re only too happy to spend the time answering them. In Canyons District, we take a team approach to education, so teachers will take what they learn from parents back to their teams to brainstorm new ways of supporting their students. We also involve students in our parent-teacher conferences, which helps to keep everyone on the same page and reinforce expectations."

If parents have specific concerns that they'd prefer to discuss without their child present, schools also will accommodate that.

Smith advises parents to go into these meetings looking for: 1) something to celebrate, because there’s always something to celebrate; 2) an understanding of how the child is doing in class, academically and behaviorally; and 3) a set of tangible goals for improvement.

"Schools schedule parent-teacher conferences early in the year or semester so as to allow time for students to correct-course, adopt good study habits, and set personal achievement goals," she says. "A goal can be as simple as agreeing to read for at least 20 minutes a day. But the more concrete the goal, the better."

Teachers might even have a few questions themselves. "Teachers like knowing about their students' hobbies and interests, because it helps them find new ways to connect with and inspire them," Smith says. "Come prepared with questions, be curious and looking for something to celebrate, and a meaningful, enjoyable conversation will most likely unfold."

Here are a few suggested questions to get the conversation started:

How are things going in the classroom?
  • What are students expected to learn academically and socially?
  • What does an average day in the classroom look like?
  • Is my child doing his or her best?
  • What are the goals for the year, and how will progress toward those goals be measured? (Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher to clarify jargon or explain what tests mean or how grades are calculated).
Looking ahead, what should our focus be?
  • What are some concrete steps my child can take to improve?
  • Does my child need extra help?
  • What can we do to support our child at home?
  • If we have questions or concerns, how would you prefer to communicate—in-person or by email or phone?
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