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The City Journals

Canyons Board of Education president riding off into the sunset — literally

Dec 14, 2018 10:43AM ● By Julie Slama

Sherril Taylor presiding at a Canyons Board of Education meeting. (Photo courtesy of Canyons School District)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

For the past 10 years, Sherril H. Taylor, who colleagues describe as quiet, humble and steady, has appeared before the community in his suit and tie, conducting Canyons Board of Education meetings, listening to patrons at his district town halls, thanking teachers for their service and speaking to students at graduations and new school ribbon-cutting ceremonies. 

During his tenure, the district was formed after splitting from Jordan School District; two multimillion-dollar bonds were passed, allowing for the building of 13 schools with nine more new school buildings or major renovations promised; teachers’ salaries were bumped to be more competitive; the long-promised high school in Draper was built; elementary schools introduced brain boosters with expanded learning opportunities; Hillcrest and Jordan high schools opened their doors in the summer to incoming struggling students; more support has been given to Title I schools for social and emotional needs; agreements have been made with neighboring towns in terms of facilities and ideas for growth; and the list goes on.

Now, after 33 years in the education field before serving 14 years combined on both Jordan’s and Canyons’ boards of education, Taylor decided “it’s time to hand off the baton; we’ve accomplished what we set to do.” He officially retires in January 2019.

Or rather, he will jump on his Harley motorcycle in chaps and a leather jacket to spend time outdoors when he is not with his family.

“My favorite Sherril story,” former board member Paul McCarty recalls, “was on July 1, 2009, the opening day of Canyons School District. We had a school bus for the board and the senior district administration, with (then Sandy Mayor) Tom Dolan and the police and we were going to parade down State Street. But not Sherril. He rolls up on his Harley Davidson with high goose neck handlebars. This is Sherril, who always has on his nice suit, starched collar, impeccable hair, and he’s dressed in black leather jacket, leather chaps and a red bandana over his head. He looked like someone you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry. Then he says, ‘follow me,’ and Sherril takes off. It was the alter ego of Sherril, one we all may have but never show in public, but there he was and it was cool to see a great big Harley escorting the school bus.”

Since that day, he has been seen “in his leathers” after riding his Harley to informal board presidency meetings, board member Steve Wrigley said, but “that first time of seeing him riding the first day of school shocked us.”

Sherril Taylor, then Canyons Board of Education vice president, escorted a school bus of officials in the parade for the opening day in 2009 of Canyons School District. (Photo courtesy of Canyons School District)

 Taylor said he learned much of his love of the outdoors, from riding a motorbike to breaking horses, while growing up on a farm. 

After the farm, Taylor and his wife, Pat, attended Snow College, then moved to Logan to attend Utah State University. He also holds a master’s in education from Westminster College and an administrative certificate from the University of Utah.

“My wife and I decided to go into education,” he said. “We both like education and serving our community, and especially helping kids. It was a good career for us and for our family.”

Taylor began his career at South Cache Junior High, but in 1970, he and his wife moved to Jordan School District, where Taylor became Butler Middle’s science and physical education teacher. Pat Taylor taught third grade at Draper Elementary for 31 years before retiring.

When Indian Hills Middle School was built 10 years later, Taylor opened its science department, teaching zoology and botany.

“I loved teaching here,” he said after the school’s 2017 groundbreaking ceremony for the recently completed renovation. “It was an exciting time working with kids. We did a lot of lab work with microscopes. We dissected frogs and a few sharks.”

Taylor then went on to intern as Eastmont Middle’s assistant principal, then served as assistant principal at Mt. Jordan Middle, West Jordan and Copper Hills high schools before becoming principal at Oquirrh Hills Middle School. He then became the staff assistant for Jordan School District’s assistant superintendent over the southeastern part of the district.

“It was a great experience. I learned from a great leader, Brenda Hales, how to be kind to people, how to be effective and detailed,” Taylor said.

Taylor retired in 2002 for a year before running for Jordan School Board of Education, which he served on through the district split, even serving on both Jordan and Canyons board simultaneously. 

“Everybody was working hard then,” he said about the tumultuous times. “The cities gave Canyons a place to meet while working with a consulting team to form the new district and hire people. The mayors were helpful and supportive of us as we got organized. We had tons of people volunteer to help in our community. So many people had a part and worked so hard. It was the greatest accomplishment.”

Former Board member Ellen S. Wallace credits Taylor for his dedication and service during those early years.

“He has been a champion of the underdog and a visionary man in creating a new district from the ground up,” she said.

Board member Mont Millerberg said that one of the first things they did was to hire Canyons’ first superintendent.

“We interviewed a lot of people, had debates over candidates, negotiated settlements, looked for someone with leadership and a vision and who could present well in public and understood the issues. Sherril had knowledge of being a teacher, principal and working in a district office, so his input was greatly appreciated,” he said.

Taylor, and former board member Tracy Cowdell, came riding to some meetings on their Harleys, McCarty recalled.

“We needed the laughter, the humorous moments, in all the stresses of creating a new school district, spending 20 to 30 hours each week — and that wasn’t counting all the hours of answering the public’s questions about the district. It was a lot of dedication by all the school board members who laid that foundation — but Sherril, he was the board’s vice president then, could see that we also needed to take a moment to smile. There was a great deal of synergy as we worked together, but we owe a lot of gratitude to Sherril for his dedication and vision,” he said.

For Taylor, the new school district was a chance to keep promises.

“For years, the Jordan Board (of Education) promised Draper they would build a high school in Draper and that was always a priority for me. We needed to keep our promise and the other schools needed upgrading and the mayors were on board supporting us,” he said.

Former Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said that meant a lot to him and the community.

“To his credit, he stepped forward and became the leader of the district and kept the vision of Draper schools,” he said. “He was the right guy and the right time in the right position to keep the ball moving. If we didn’t have the high school, we wouldn’t be state champions today in a couple things. Thanks to him and others, Draper City finally got what they wanted.”

While on the board, Taylor worked with the Utah High School Activities Association, helping set goals to playing a part in realigning the regions. He also has been a part of the redevelopment team that worked with cities’ master plans and businesses, such as partnering with Cottonwood Heights and Sandy to create middle school theaters for community and school use, or Sandy, in the construction of Hale Theatre, which promised to provide tickets to students and teachers, to see how decisions would impact the schools.

“We would want to know how they would help our kids and what was the return to the community,” he said, adding recently a technology company promised to provide training and internships to students. 

For his dedication, Sandy City awarded Taylor the 2018 Outstanding Local Elected Official of the Year, an award Taylor wouldn’t receive on his own behalf, but only if he could recognize others on the board and in the district.

“Everyone worked so hard. It wasn’t an award for one person. We all want to live up to the mission,” he said.

Millerberg said Taylor’s response is typical of his character.

“He’s slow to take the credit, but quick to share it,” he said.

Sandy’s former mayor said Taylor’s leadership has been critical to the community.

“Sherril is a wonderful person who is so dedicated to children and families and has accomplished so much under his leadership,” Dolan said. “We’ve worked together on the city’s master plan, which will help both the city and the school district move ahead. He’s a serious guy with a sweet heart, one who cares and is so kind. The award was our way of thanking him for his contribution.”

However, it’s the daily business where his colleagues greatly appreciate him. They say he is formal, logical, soft-spoken and “never eats dinner with us, but takes it home, as he’s all business,” Wrigley said.

“He is soft-spoken, and everyone listens,” McCarty said. “He has ideas, he has wisdom, and wants to get things done.”

Superintendent Jim Briscoe said his “strong leadership and steady hand” guided the board to “build a consensus for the good of the children that will help create a lasting impact.”

However, Briscoe also appreciates Taylor’s puns.

“You need to stay very alert when he is sharing. He will wait until you get it before he moves on. One thing I can kick myself for is not writing them down,” he said. 

Board Vice President Nancy Tingy agrees.

“He is really gifted at coming up with one-liners that can just make me laugh,” she said. “He has a pocketful of them. He was born of wisdom, wit and a big heart. His wealth of experience has benefitted the board with his connections. He truly loves children and educators and makes every effort to serve the community. He leads by helping others be successful. He ensures everyone is comfortable to speak and he values the voice of his fellow board members. He is humble and confident; it’s a good mixture.”

Millerberg said he is reassuring and encouraging for the board.

“Sherril has a calming influence,” he said. “He understands education inside and out. As board president, he listens first, then holds his opinion until last. He is very collaborative and works with everyone to reach a decision. It’s a seven-member board and everyone matters.”

Utah PTA Student Leadership Commissioner Betty Shaw appreciates his leadership and thoughtfulness.

“He is a quiet man, but has great leadership strength,” she said. “He makes sure that he gets things right and respects all in their opinions, even if he disagrees. He tries to keep things running smoothly and fairly to have the meetings be on track. I have been blessed to be able to call him my friend and will dearly miss his experience in leading the board, and his kindness in how he treats all people.”

Wrigley said Taylor has been dedicated.

“He is a strong advocate and loyal, keeping his word to Indian Hills, the last school in the 2010 bond, that there would be funding for its renovation,” he said. “He has brought a collaborative board presidency to work with Superintendent Briscoe and for our district. He has dedicated his whole life and heart to help students. He is a stewardship leader, not one in the limelight, but nonetheless, his leadership is unparalleled,” he said.

Smith compares Taylor to John R. Park, who lent his name to the first school in Draper.

“Sherril is a lot like John R. Park; he was a visionary for schools back in his day too. And he was able to put his talents, his ability to work with people and pull them together as the team captain,” Smith said. “It’s not only how many students he has impacted from his years in education, but also all his hard work for these schools that will serve the future.”

Briscoe agrees. “Sherril may be riding off in the sunset, but his legacy lives on.”