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The City Journals

Steve Wrigley says decisions, concerns weigh heavily on Board of Education

Oct 12, 2020 12:16PM ● By Julie Slama

Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley talks to patrons gathered at Alta View Elementary’s groundbreaking in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Curtis/Alta View)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Hours into the July 14 Canyons Board of Education meeting, Board Vice President Steve Wrigley addressed patrons, citing how COVID-19 has affected the community—not only the physical health, but how it has impacted the economy and poverty rates, and how it has led to parent stress and possible increased domestic violence, marital and abuse issues. 

Wrigley also said that with the soft closure of schools, decisions were made that children, “basically took them out of a normal life and put them in cocoons,” to ensure their physical health, but now they are learning the impacts of their social-emotional health as they are trying to determine the best balance going forward.

“As a board member it’s really difficult to weigh all this,” he said about finding that balance. “Yes, the physical health, the well-being of the child is important, but holistically looking at that is really difficult. We try to keep the kid safe, but at the same time we give them a life as a child.”

It’s not just how to socially distance students in narrow hallways or listen to how they didn’t have a prom or traditional graduation, it’s how to proceed with education during COVID-19 that has been one of the more difficult conversations and discussions Wrigley has during his 10-year tenure on the Board.

“Our kids’ safety and our kids’ education is not political as far as I’m concerned and the Board is too. It’s not a political issue. We have to do what’s right. If I don’t educate a kid and get him the basics in reading and writing by third grade, it will affect his entire life. If we’ve got kids that socially don’t relate to people, they may drop out of school. Kids are losing years of education. It affects their whole future. It doesn’t just affect now, but their entire life if they drop out of school. It’s more than COVID right now, it’s all the ramifications that come with the COVID close down that this school district is trying to deal with,” he said, adding that not all students have equality when it comes to parent support in their homes even though the district did distribute hundreds of Chromebooks to students who needed access online.

His time hasn’t just been spent in meetings that have lasted well into the night. Researching news articles and educational blogs, listening to COVID-19 experts from the government, health department and medical fields, and doing lots of reading in professional journals, Wrigley said the Board has spent hours of research “trying to follow the science” as well as listening to students, parents, teachers and other concerned parties. 

Wrigley said some days, he has received 200 emails and tries to respond when they are addressed to him individually.

“The teachers, the parents who have been the most concerned, I usually give them a call. I want to hear what they’re saying. I want to hear what their concerns are. We read the emails that come in,” he said. “The emotional part of it is you feel what the person is feeling. It’s taxing; it’s emotionally taxing. I never thought as a board member I’d have to do something this serious.”

Wrigley said the bottom line comes to: “It’s difficult to say other than your gut feeling and trying to do the best you can. This is probably the biggest pivot that education has ever done. It’s forcing us to a paradigm shift as we rethink education, how can you educate in a COVID world. I think we’re learning a lot from it as we move forward and it’s changing education as its foundation. Look at what Canyons School District has done as far as choice, we’ve got multiple choices and multiple different things that I think after we get done with COVID…you’ll see education a little bit different.” 

While differing opinions may tear people apart, he quickly says the Board has bonded during these times.

“We have had several difficult discussions, boundary issues and several difficult decisions the last several years; I think our Board over the last several years has really come together,” Wrigley said. “The Board itself has risen to this crisis. There is no answer to this. A lot of times with boundaries, parents may not agree with us, but typically there is a right answer when you take all the facts in, but with this we go right one day, and the health department changes it and we got to go left, then we find something else and we go right again. This one, we have to use our gut, listen to the science, all the professionals in the district, in the health department, in the governor’s office and so many people who are talking right now and take all that in.”

He gives credit to Canyons’ faculty and administrative and support staff who have spent hours putting together a plan on providing education to students on top of their usual summer tasks.

“They’re putting together a COVID plan, which we’re probably on version 10 of…and everybody is saying, we want you to put together a plan in four months and it’s got to be perfect,” Wrigley said. 

During the spring, the Board not only addressed COVID-19 related issues, they also spent 50 to 60 hours interviewing for a new superintendent as Jim Briscoe announced his retirement in January. Another 20 hours were put in for the final interviews, many were held over Zoom, before the new superintendent, Rick Robins, was announced in late April.

“To go through all this and hire a new superintendent at the same time quadrupled work, but the passing of the baton between our two superintendents was so smooth, we moved forward during a time, we could have been bloated,” Wrigley said, adding that when he originally decided he wanted to become a board member, he estimated it would be five to 10 hours per week, but realizes “even now, as a board member, you’re on 24/7.”

While Wrigley greatly misses the interaction with people and being in schools and attending school functions, he knows the serious decisions the Board is making during his third term.

“We’re dealing with kids’ lives, their grandkids’ lives, we’re affecting the future,” Wrigley said. “It weighs heavily on me, as we look at our decisions and how it will impact generations.”