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Cottonwood Holladay Journal

Ridgecrest volunteer, others recognized for efforts working with school children

Oct 04, 2018 11:06AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Canyons Board of Education President Sherril Taylor presents Jay Neeley, a Ridgecrest Elementary volunteer, with the Canyons Board of Education’s APEX Award. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

Jay Neeley, who taught in Granite School District for 30 years, said he was taken aback to learn he was Canyons School District’s Volunteer of the Year.

“I was totally surprised,” he said. “I had no idea there was such an award.”

Having started volunteering at Ridgecrest Elementary seven years ago when his grandson was a student there, Neeley has stayed on, helping numerous teachers with their reading, writing and math lessons with students.

“I help wherever they need help,” he said. “Kids in elementary school can use a lot of one-on-one help. Some struggle with reading, writing and math and even behavioral skills. I have fun teaching and encouraging them, even joking with them so they aren’t more stressed. I like the school, administration and people. They are fantastic and friendly and accommodating with my schedule of coming three days each week. They’re just wonderful and for them to even consider me for the award is humbling.”

Ridgecrest Principal Julie Winfree said they’re appreciative of his dedication to students; he is a valuable member of the school community.

“Jay is a happy, social and hardworking volunteer,” she said. “The students look forward to working with Mr. Neely. He reads with students, reviews math, makes copies or does just about anything a teacher requests. The teachers know that whatever they ask Mr. Neely to do, he will get it done. Jay drives three days a week from Riverton and often shows up with doughnuts for the entire staff. Jay is so reliable and loyal he even calls in sick if he cannot come to school that day.”

Neeley is one of the 11 outstanding individuals and community partners who were honored Sept. 11 at CSD’s ninth annual Apex Awards banquet. The Apex Award is the highest honor given by Canyons School District's administration and the Board of Education. It is reserved for the makers, shakers and disrupters who have contributed to neighborhood schools in extraordinary ways, and who have made a lasting difference, said spokesman Jeff Haney.

Neeley, and other winners, were selected after a public nomination process, which spanned over several months. 

Other honorees include Principals of the Year Cathy Schino, of Edgemont Elementary, and Margaret Swanicke, of Sunrise Elementary; District Administrator of the Year Amber Roderick-Landward, who is the department director of instructional support; Student Support Services Professionals of the Year to Jordan High counseling team; Education Support Professionals of the Year to Eric Taylor and Sharon Simmons, both of the district’s information technology department; Legacy Award Winner Leon Wilcox, district business administrator; Elected Official of the Year Utah House of Representatives’ Bruce Cutler; and Business Partner of the Year, McNeil’s Auto Care, which partners with Entrada High School. The district’s Teacher of the Year, Corner Canyon High’s Amber Rogers, also was honored.

Canyons Board of Education President Sherril Taylor thanked those and others who work, partner and teach within the district.

“We’ve all been touched by your commitment to the success of our schools,” he said. “This celebration tonight is our way of extending our heartfelt appreciation for that tireless dedication. So, from us to you: Thank you for giving so much of yourselves — as champions of public education, as community partners, as cherished friends.”

Sunrise Elementary Administrative Assistant Wendy Heath said the school community is “super proud, super excited and not surprised” about Swanicke being named one of two principals of the year.

“Margaret is accessible, level-headed and cares what is best for the kids,” she said. “She finds out what is best for everyone involved. She has given teachers more tools to be balanced and she supports and pushes teachers not to teach to the test, but teach so the kids can be successful and have fun. In fact, here the kids want to come to the office to say hi to Principal Swanicke as a reward in itself; they don’t realize it’s not the same everywhere. She has made it such a positive atmosphere that others have heard about Margaret and Sunrise.”

Edgemont’s Schino also has worked hard to make her community positive and welcoming.

“I’m really surprised and humbled when I learned that numerous teachers and people from the community nominated me,” she said. “It says something that they can feel the change in our community — we have more of a positive mindset and cooperative culture — and they’re supportive of it. I’m really excited and happy that we are giving this energy to our students.”

Utah House of Representative Bruce Cutler has visited almost every turnaround school in the state as a proponent for early childhood education. He has worked to extend STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outreach into all students’ hands, including those in the Navajo Nation. This last school year, Cutler, with the help of Canyons Foundation Board, established 529C savings plans for seven seventh-graders who met qualifications and put $500 in the accounts earmarked for post-secondary education. And now, he’s working on getting services for children and families coordinated, especially in the Murray and Midvale communities.

As an eight-year member of the Murray School Board and current Canyons Foundation Board member, Cutler said he has a passion for public education.

“Public education is the lifeblood of our society,” he said. “Some kindergarten teachers encounter students who don’t even know how to hold a book or turn pages. We must support our teachers so these students will become educated and well-prepared members of our society. We will never be able to pay them enough to truly compensate them for their dedication.”