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Superintendent says good-bye to school district he helped create

Thursday, June 27, 20131113 views

Six years ago, David Doty jumped at the chance to create Utah’s first new school district in 100 years with a vision of all students beginning a career or heading to college upon high school graduation.  Now, the first Canyons School District superintendent will step away June 30.

“I felt there was a window of opportunity that I could make changes that students and families in this district deserved to have and put the district together in the right way, so I took this job,” Doty said.  “I put together a leadership team to improve the infrastructure of schools.  We’re on course, and it will happen, but we’re not done.  This job will never be done; there will always be something going on.”

As superintendent, Doty has used his background as a lawyer and educator.

“I came in with my eyes open that the transition team would face political, financial, legal matters. I realized that if I took the job and failed, it would be a big, colossal failure.  But it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been rewarding,” he said.

During his tenure, Doty encountered surprises, such as the stock market crashing two months after he took the position and was faced with building a school district with aging buildings and keeping costs down, without laying off employees.  He was proud when voters passed a $250 million bond in 2010 to improve schools, but he also was disappointed with some comments about his goals for the district.

“I became a teacher 23 years ago, and I love kids, love teachers and want to see them succeed; I’m passionate about it.  So I was really surprised when some people questioned me about raising the bar and asking students to do more than pass,” he said.

Since 2011, ACT standardized tests improved 3 percent to 9 percent in the district in every subject.  When Doty introduced an advanced high school diploma, he was met with skepticism, but 67 percent of this year’s graduating seniors earned the advanced diploma.

Doty said that he realized being superintendent would be a demanding job in the public eye, but even so, he didn’t understand its full impact.

“It’s exhausting, consuming.  I knew that coming in, but there are many unique challenges when you create a district.  Some things, like the racial incident at Alta High a couple years ago, challenge you.  I wanted to speak at that graduation, my daughter’s graduation, but with the incident, I didn’t want to be the focal point of controversy.  A patron came up in my face during the state soccer play-offs and said I shouldn’t even attend.  Every single decision I make is in the public eye. Everyone knows, criticizes, posts their opinion on a blog. I don’t have privacy or the luxury of living my own life and I’m on call 24-7, even when I’m on vacation. Most of the time, I have positive interaction with people in the community, but that’s not always the case,” he said.

Doty has lead the district during the building of Draper’s first junior high and senior high schools, which will open this fall, and several other schools are in the remodeling stages.  Schools are being reconfigured, which will change elementaries to kindergarten through fifth-grade and high schools to four years.

His timing, with an April 16 announcement to leave the district to take a leadership position with Education Direction, a Utah-based education reform firm, left some patrons puzzled.

“I was offered a job with a great company, and I wasn’t even looking.  They’re committed to improving education, locally and nationally, and will implement my ideas to help other districts beyond the community of Canyons School District,” he said.

So, as Doty clears out his office, he will remove more than a school house quilt his mother made, a photo of his dad in the military, a drawing from his daughter, and a photo of one of his two sons playing baseball. He will box up more than framed certificates and framed photographs of his hero, Rosa Parks—he will pack up memories that helped shape Canyons School District.

One of those moments he remembers was a couple of years ago when the Brighton soccer team rallied around one player whose father died during the season.  And he values times when families go bowling, golf, eat dinner or attend church and talk about their children and how they can help them succeed, he said.

“We’re here as a community, helping one another for the benefit of children, and that’s pretty powerful,” Doty said.  “I liked Comcast Cares Day two years ago, because at the end of the day, it’s caring about our kids and schools. It’s rewarding to build that bond and that sense of community, and that’s what building a school district is all about.”

Deputy Superintendent for Student Achievement and Chief Academic Officer Ginger Rhode will serve as interim superintendent while a national search is conducted to replace Doty.  A permanent replacement is expected to be announced next February.

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