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Canyons School Board selects Illinois educator as new superintendent

Published: Tuesday, April 29 2014 6:43 p.m. MDT

SANDY — In a unanimous vote Tuesday, members of the Canyons Board of Education selected James Briscoe as the district's second superintendent.

Briscoe, who previously served as superintendent of schools DeKalb, Illinois, was offered a two-year appointment, which officially begins July 1.

"We’re confident that together, along with our new superintendent, we can ensure that our children will leave our schools ready for college and careers," said Sherril Taylor, board chairman.

Briscoe's selection comes after an extensive search that incorporated feedback from students, school leaders and parents. Taylor said that feedback was used in shaping the job posting and guided board members in their review of candidates.

"We were very impressed with the quality of applicants," he said. "It was humbling to know so many amazing people wanted to join us."

Briscoe replaces interim Superintendent Ginger Rhodes, who has served in the position since the resignation of founding superintendent David Doty last June to join the education consulting firm Education Direction.

Doty's tenure was met with controversy, including accusations that administrators used bullying and intimidation to silence dissent and culminating in a petition signed by more than 1,000 people calling for an investigation of Doty's management of the district.

Shortly before Doty's resignation, voters elected three first-time candidates to the seven-member school board, which subsequently led to a shakeup of board leadership.

"I think there has been better communication this past year with our interim superintendent," said Ross Rogers, president of the Canyons Education Association. "I think she has been doing a wonderful job."

Rogers said teachers were asked for their input on what characteristics they would like to see in a new superintendent and were again asked to weigh in when the finalists were chosen.

He said it's too early to tell what effect new leadership will have for the district, but he's hopeful that Briscoe will recognize the progress that has been made since the district's creation.

"We’re hoping that the new superintendent is going to be open and understanding that as teachers in the district, we have gone through five years of change and we’ve worked our butt off to do the things the district has asked us to do and to make the district a better place for our students," Rogers said.

Canyons School District was formed in 2008 after a contentious split from the Jordan School District. Canyons serves 33,674 students, according to the most recent enrollment numbers from the Utah State Office of Education, making it the fifth-largest school district in the state.

Briscoe said he intends to spend his first months as superintendent meeting with community members and learning about the district. He described his management style as collaborative and said he must earn the respect of the students, parents and faculty.

"I want to learn and listen as much as I’d like to lead," he said.

Briscoe was among three final candidates, along with Canyons Assistant Superintendent Kathryn McCarrie and Washington County School District administrator Craig Hammer.

Board member Chad Iverson, who was traveling in India during Tuesday's meeting but participated by phone, said he appreciates the new blood, ideas and energy Briscoe will bring with him for having worked outside of Utah.

"I think he will continue the direction that we have set out to improve student achievement," Iverson said.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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