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Cottonwood Heights Journal

New Canyons superintendent ready to face post-coronavirus education challenges

May 13, 2020 10:05AM ● By Julie Slama

The first photo together—a screenshot—was taken of the Canyons Board members and newly appointed superintendent, Rick L. Robins, with the help of Canyons School District’s communications director, Jeff Haney. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

With the unanimous vote, the Canyons Board of Education appointed Rick L. Robins to lead Canyons School District’s 34,000 students when current superintendent Jim Briscoe retires June 30.

Canyons Board President Nancy Tingey said the appointment comes at an “unprecedented time” as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. That was evident in Robins’ approval as some board members cast their ballots from remote locations in light of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

It not only was an unprecedented time in the school board naming its fourth-ever superintendent, but also as earlier that day, April 14, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that K-12 public schools would remain online for the rest of the school year.

Robins met challenging questions about the extended school closure after the announcement, by a scattering of media, who were in attendance and could sit in chairs spaced apart from one another.

“None of us, any of us, could predict this, or see it really coming, so, yes, it’s a real challenge, one for the ages,” Robins said about the pandemic. “It’s overwhelming for everybody right now, for sure. As I mentioned, we’re in it together. It’s really unprecedented. We’ve never really experienced something like this. So, I think really the key is to take care of our kids and our family and make sure they’re OK.”

As a self-proclaimed optimist, Robins is “holding out hope” that schools will be back in session next fall.

“Our families and especially our students are really looking forward to the day they’re back in the schools. Moving into next year, I think really the discussion points will be around the bridge and coming from this situation we’re in right now to the fall and trying to address those gaps,” he said, adding that there likely will be baseline assessments in the fall to do “what’s best for each individual student.”

Robins applauded school faculty and staff statewide in helping families during this crisis whether it’s academics, nutrition, support or whatever is needed.

“I have full confidence in the teachers and staff of Canyons School District, just like the rest of our teachers and staff around the state. They’ve been amazing in this transition. I see this as a ‘we’ proposition. It’s not educators and parents separately. That’s one of the beauties of Utah; we work together well, and in times of crises, like this, we come together,” he said.

Robins earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern Utah University where he was inducted to the university’s hall of fame in 2013 after being a four-year starter at quarterback for the football team. He received his master’s degree from Grand Canyon University and a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

His 25 years in education began as a history teacher at Copper Hills High School in Jordan School District and he worked as an assistant principal and principal in the Alpine, Nebo and Juab school districts. He also has coached both boys’ and girls’ sports. As Juab High School principal, Robins was named Utah’s high school principal of the year in 2012 by his peers.

Under Robins’ leadership as superintendent, Juab School District was inducted into the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in 2015 and the district was honored by the National School Boards Convention by the Center for Digital Education as a top 10 winner in 2018.

While the Board welcomed Robins, they also praised Briscoe’s leadership.

“This district just got a whole lot better” with Robins’ appointment, Briscoe said, adding that the two bonded as they were both appointed superintendents of schools the same year.

Joining Robins at the meeting was his wife, Heidi, who is a school psychologist. The couple have four children, ranging from age 8 to college—including one who is spending her senior year at their Nephi home.

Robins credited seniors for the tough year to end their public education years.

“I’m so proud of the seniors in every school district,” he said. “You see all the videos that student government officers are putting out for their classmates to support their classmates and you know, just a lot of love and support. These (spring sports and year-end) activities for the kids mean everything. It’s the heartbeat of our schools. To me, whether it’s football or the play, arts or the choir or whatever our kids’ passions are, they’ve all been put on hold and that’s a really tough place to be, especially our seniors this year. My heart breaks for them because it’s their last opportunity for most of them.”