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The City Journals

Canyons School District announces top awards—virtually

Feb 18, 2021 01:33PM ● By Julie Slama

Former Canyons School District superintendent Jim Briscoe, seen here supporting student robotics a week before soft closure of schools last spring, recently received the school district’s APEX Legacy Award. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Learning that she was named the 2020 APEX Award-winner of School Administrator of the Year, Kelly Tauteoli said it renewed her spirit in an otherwise “stressful, discouraging year” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “It has been a rough year for everyone; this is a happy, shining moment.”  

The Union Middle School principal was tipped off to the award shortly before she received an official letter from Canyons Board of Education. Then, APEX winners were given a basket of gifts and recognized at the Nov. 10 board meeting instead of at a dinner since Canyons School District is following health and safety guidelines for COVID-19. 

Other awards were given included district administrator of the year, teacher of the year, business/community partner of the year, volunteers of the year, elected official of the year, student support services professional of the year, education support professional of the year and the legacy award.

“I go to work, do my best, and hope to make a difference in students’ lives. I try to meet the needs of my staff and community,” she said.

That has been a challenge that Tauteoli has met in her tenure in Canyons School District. Coming to the District after teaching at Salt Lake Valley Detention Center and at a private psychiatric hospital and after serving as an assistant vice principal at Joel P. Jensen Middle School in West Jordan, Tauteoli served three years at Midvale Middle as an assistant principal, two years at Park Lane Elementary as principal and now is in her sixth year at Union Middle in Sandy.

Described as “the calm in the eye of the storm,” she has navigated students and staff through a water main break at Midvale Middle to a shooting four years ago on the Union campus. Tauteoli also has helped students, families and her staff through Union’s fire last year where she said for about six weeks, she “worked around the clock” trying to respond to parents’ concerns and emails, up to 100 per day. She also worked with the district and state for the return of students on a split schedule to ensure their education continued.

While restoring the building, Tauteoli also has been part of the discussion of the rebuild of the school. Those meetings will continue through the construction process as a groundbreaking ceremony is expected this spring.

“It’s been a lot, but we’ve created a very resilient and caring staff who have learned to collaborate, adapt and, as a result, become tight-knit and have worked hard to provide students with great learning experiences,” she said. “This means a lot, but I still plan to go into work each day and keep doing my best for the kids, staff and community of Union.”

Joining Tauteoli as an award-winner is Bob Dowdle, who as an assistant superintendent and educator of 31 years, is responsible for keeping 6,000 employees working to support the growth and achievement of 34,000 students. 

“Dowdle is more like a stealth leader of leaders, quietly planting in others the seeds of progress and change,” said Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney. “Whether teaching high school history lessons or serving as assistant superintendent, Dowdle's approach has been to build trust with people and give them the freedom to do their best work.”

With every inherited responsibility has come more work, but Dowdle says his colleagues make his job easy. Even as the pandemic has brought unforeseen challenges, Dowdle credits his team for finding solutions, though he's missed nary a day of work since the onset of the health crisis, Haney said.

Dowdle shares the District Administrator of the Year with Susan Edwards, Canyons public engagement coordinator.

Twelve years ago when the District was created and a clear directive from the voters that the district should be innovative, responsive and proactive, Edwards has made it become her personal mission, Haney said.

“Whether the call comes at midnight on a Saturday or 6 a.m. on a Sunday—or both—Edwards is known to put all other matters aside and respond,” he said.

Edwards works with local legislators, city leaders, parents and volunteers to ensure the District creates and maintains valuable relationships, advocates for school funding at the Legislature, and remains focused on the success of Canyons' students.

Though her job is demanding, Edwards always finds a way to say “yes,” and backs it up with the energy and commitment that makes everything seem possible, said Charlie Evans, Canyons’ director of external relations.

“In Susan Edwards’ mind, there is no insurmountable problem,” Evans said. “I have never worked with anybody who is willing to work harder and longer hours and do whatever it takes to get the job done like Susan.”

Canyons teacher of the year and the state’s runner-up for the 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year, Emma Moss also is the APEX teacher of the year, who says, “I just do whatever I can do to help.”

During her three years teaching, doing “whatever” has meant changing classes and grades every year she’s taught, learning new curriculum, earning her endorsements and preparing challenging, yet engaging lessons. She also has volunteered to help write curriculum for a new digital literacy course for the district and is guiding others statewide on the standards—that is, when she isn’t advising the 35 members of student council.

During last spring’s soft closure of schools, Moss lead the transformation to digital learning on the Canvas learning platform and Google Meet video meetings alongside the school’s education technology coach.

“She is always the first to reach out and support the other teachers and staff members,” said her principal, Stacy Kurtzhals. “She already had infused technology into her classrooms and was ready to implement it online.”

If implementing it isn’t enough, she also dons a lab coat and safety goggles and leads students to dissecting computers so they can understand technology better.

“They take it apart, treat it as organs of a body, asking what it is, how it works, why it works. She lets them take it apart, but they also have to be able to put it back in working order,” Kurtzhals said, who added that while online, Moss held lunchtime trivia games to challenge any Eastmont student. “She wants to keep connected with the kids, to be a friend to them, to make them feel appreciated and loved, to show how she cares about each and every one of them.”

The District’s APEX Legacy Award was given to former Superintendent Jim Briscoe, who served students from 2014 through the pandemic this past spring.

“He had a vision of creating a school district where students and employees thrived and community relationships were strengthened,” Haney said. “In his words, Briscoe sought to build an environment where ‘every single person knows they are valued.’” 

In fact, Briscoe would guide the District by that belief of serving students.

“I think they’re all my kids,” he said prior to his retirement. “I think every time I have a discussion with the administrators and board members, I always remember that every kid in this district is my responsibility. Every student here is important to me.”

During Briscoe's six-year tenure, Canyons' students regularly outperformed their Utah peers on year-end tests, and the district’s graduation rate rose to an all-time high. He also oversaw the completion of several schools’ construction projects, and he led the successful passage of a $283 million bond in 2017 for more schools to be rebuilt or renovated. 

Briscoe also oversaw innovative programs that were created to meet the needs of students while advocating for employee compensation increases and working with the Board of Education to increase teacher salaries to among the highest in Utah.

Other APEX award-winners include Kevin Kelson, custodial coordinator for the education support professional of the year; Sally Goodger, school nurse specialist, and the instructional supports department’s education technology team specialists for the student support services professionals of the year. Volunteers of the year are Araceli Rivera, East Midvale Elementary volunteer; and Stacey Kratz, who has volunteered in Sandy and Midvale area schools. The elected official of the year is Rep. Steve Eliason and the business/community partner of the year is the Utah Food Bank.