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Midvale Journal

Legacy awards represent Canyons School District’s future

Oct 14, 2019 10:19AM ● By Julie Slama

Canyons Board of Education and administration shake hands with Apex Volunteer of the Year Baraa Arkawazi, who spent 1,100 hours helping at East Midvale Elementary. (Photo courtesy of Canyons School District)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“I feel like I’m surrounded by legends,” Canyons School District Superintendent Jim Briscoe told honorees and guests at the district’s 10th annual Apex awards night. “What you all do is for our kids, their families and for those in the next 100 years.”

The annual Apex awards night honors those who serve in the schools as well as those who help support them. They are the highest awards given by the Canyons Board of Education and the school district’s administration. 

Briscoe said that when he was interviewing five years ago for his position, then Canyons Board of Education President Tracy Scott Cowdell said, “I just want to be inspired.” 

“I’ve been inspired by every board member I’ve worked with; you have made a huge difference for our kids and you don’t know how long that impact will be,” Briscoe said, who also said he is inspired by those who work in the schools and appreciates area mayors and elected officials who help make Canyons a successful district. “I’m inspired when I walk in and observe teachers and students. The more I see, the more I’m inspired and want to keep moving forward in a positive direction.”

While Briscoe showed appreciation to everyone who contributed to the district, the Legacy Award was indeed recognizing “legends.” Four members of the first Canyons Board of Education—Cowdell, Kim H. Horiuchi, Sherril H. Taylor and Ellen Wallace—received the honor.

“It’s a great honor, and I really appreciate the existing board and Superintendent Briscoe for recognizing us,” Horiuchi said. “Probably no one knows what all went into creating this district.”

While those involved know long hours, many discussions and difficult decisions were made before and after voters approved the new school district, it left them with six weeks after becoming official July 1, 2009 to be ready as Canyons School District, current board member Mont Millerberg said.

Since then, Canyons has shown its appreciation of teachers, including salary increases two years in a row; this one funded by a truth in taxation, Briscoe said.

“Every teacher’s salary in the district was raised by $7,800. I call that courage, and I also call it passion for public education,” he said.

Through its decade, Canyons has honored an outstanding teacher at every school since and after recognizing those teachers this year, current Board President Nancy Tingey invited Canyons District’s teacher of the year, Jessica Beus, to receive her APEX award.

Beus shared the credit after being named teacher of the year last spring.

“It’s exciting what we’re doing and where we’re going with Midvale, but it comes from the support we have of each other. We are a team, we all dive in and do what is best for our students,” she said about the school improving students’ academic successes and test scores.

That apparently is true as not only Beus, but her principal, Chip Watts, and Midvale Elementary’s community school facilitator, Heidi Sanger, also were recognized as the Canyons School Administrator of the Year and Student Support Services Professional of the Year respectively. Supporting them were several other Midvale staff and faculty, who cheered for their colleagues.

A secondary Canyons School Administrator of the Year was named: Butler Middle School Principal Paula Logan.

“I am deeply honored by the recognition of the APEX School Administrator of the Year,” Logan said and thanked the Board for the award, support and value they place in recognizing the many people who work hard in the district. 

“For me, this is a moment that will always stand out in my career,” Logan said. “I have been blessed to work with amazing people and communities who inspire me to learn and grow. I appreciate the support, guidance, and friendship I have received throughout my career in Canyons School District. I know there is still a lot to learn and to do. I plan to continue my efforts to improve the outcomes for teachers and students in my school.”

Logan, who previously was principal at Midvale Middle, had hired Evelyn Leal, alternative language services assistant. Logan applauded Leal who also received the Student Support Services Professional of the Year award.

Another team—Carl Patterson, Jake Thomas and Ryan Jakeman—were recognized as Canyons Education Support Professionals of the Year, as the facilities services coordinators have helped ensure construction around the district goes smoothly and is on time.

Briscoe pointed out that the district completed all of its 2010 bond projects and is already underway with several of its 2019 bond building projects—including four high schools and an elementary school currently being constructed in addition to other projects. 

Video clips were shown about each awardee, and with this award, Facilities Director Rick Conger said, “When I heard of this award for these three, it literally did bring tears to my eyes.”

Likewise, Special Education Director Misty Suarez said that District Administrator of the Year Terri Mitchell is “a great leader. She is an example to everyone in the perfect way to interact with kids.” 

Mitchell said her job as the early childhood education director is “the best job in the world. It’s the best job in Canyons. It means a lot to be recognized. I would say I have given everything to Canyons School District and will continue to do so.”

A second District Administrator of the Year award went to Gary O. Hansen, who oversees district purchasing.

“Without someone like Gary, I think we would really struggle especially at our school levels which is the most important because we really need to make sure we support our teachers and students,” Canyons Business Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Leon Wilcox said. “He knows that the bottom line helping our teachers and students succeed and that is what makes him so beneficial to Canyons School District. He does so much behind the scenes, but he doesn’t really seek out the recognition or limelight.”

The Canyons Volunteer of the Year award went to Baraa Arkawazi, who spent 1,100 hours helping at East Midvale Elementary. Last spring, she received the Heart of Canyons Community Schools award.

Arkawazi, who lived in Turkey, was asked by administrators to help translate Arabic to English for a shy kindergartner who had just moved to Utah and was struggling to fit in. Every day for five years, she came to help that student and others. 

Representative Robert Spendlove was applauded as Canyons Elected Official of the Year. 

In his video clip, Spendlove said that it is his job to be the voice of the people, not just those who elected him, but everyone, especially the “voice of the young people who can’t vote yet, but they need that voice.”

Real Salt Lake organization and owner Dell Loy Hansen was honored as the Canyons Business Partner of the Year. Earlier this year, Hansen funded $250 toward every elementary teacher who submitted a grant proposal in his Scoring for Schools. Through similar programs in Jordan and Alpine school districts, he donated $1.2 million in teacher grants.

“Just like professional soccer players, students need to train with the right equipment in order to score big in the classroom,” he said last winter. “If a teacher needs something, we want to make it happen.”

Hansen, who learned about the award in early September, said he didn’t “understand the magnitude and the power of a well put-together school district” until the awards ceremony.

That, many say, comes from the district’s beginnings and appreciating those who set it in motion, as well as those who have contributed to it along the way.

“Eleven years ago, we started this historic journey of working together to build a world-class school district for our community,” Board President Tingey said. “This year’s winners of the Apex Awards certainly have helped Canyons District on our journey, and we are grateful they are part of the Canyons District family. Their commitment to the success of our schools, whether from the very beginning of Canyons District or in recent years, is very much appreciated and has made a difference.” 

Cowdell said that receiving the Legacy Award “really means a lot to me and brings back great memories. I hope they keep the momentum.”