A longtime superintendent from Illinois will be the next leader of the Canyons School District, the district’s board decided Tuesday afternoon.
The board unanimously voted to appoint James Briscoe, superintendent of the DeKalb Community Unit School District No. 428 in DeKalb, Ill., as the new leader of Canyons. Briscoe, who earned his doctorate of education at Northern Illinois University, has headed the 6,200-student DeKalb district for six years.
He will take over the top spot at Canyons, Utah’s newest school district, with more than 33,000 students, on July 1.
“I’m so excited about this opportunity because of the hard work that’s gone into creating this new school district,” Briscoe, 54, told district employees and parents gathered for the vote Tuesday. “They took a risk on a guy from Illinois, outside of Chicago, so I want to thank them for taking that risk because I really felt it was a good match.”
Briscoe beat out two other finalists for the job: Craig Hammer, executive director of secondary schools, Washington County School District in St. George; and Kathryn McCarrie, assistant superintendent and chief performance officer for the Canyons School District.
Briscoe takes the spot left open by former superintendent David Doty, who resigned in June to lead an education reform organization.
Briscoe will make a base salary of $200,000. That’s an increase from the base salary of $185,000 that Doty earned, but still not the highest in the state.
Board member Chad Iverson said he believes Briscoe will bring insight to the district.
“I think he will also bring new blood, new ideas and new energy from some place outside the state, which I think is a tremendous opportunity we have as a district,” Iverson said.
Board member Tracy Scott Cowdell assured community members that the board hopes to continue the work it started with Doty.
Doty was the district’s first superintendent. Canyons officially split from the Jordan School District following a controversial public vote in 2007, becoming the first new Utah district in nearly a century.
Since its creation, the district has become known for innovation in certain areas, such as offering advanced and honors high school diplomas and, recently, reconfiguring the grades housed in its schools.
“We’re not going to let up,” Cowdell said Tuesday. “We’re going to keep the momentum. We’re not going to back down.”
“What we’re hoping Dr. Briscoe will do is analyze what we’re doing and see what we can do better,” Cowdell added.
Briscoe said he likely will spend his first three months on the job continuing to learn about the district and its programs.
“We’ll look at what’s working and not working and then we’ll work together to [develop] strategies and programs to help us connect the dots,” Briscoe said.
He described his management style as collaborative and professional. As superintendent, Doty became known for his vocal communication style, and he drew both strong criticism and praise.
“I want to learn and listen as much as I want to lead,” Briscoe said Tuesday. “I will make tough recommendations when I need to, but I guarantee I will get the input of parents, teachers, possibly students, and principals before those recommendations go forward.”
Briscoe chose early retirement in Illinois because of pension reform in that state. Before heading the DeKalb district, Briscoe spent six years as superintendent of the Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 in Illinois. He also has worked as a school administrator and was a sixth-grade social studies and math teacher.