Parents have high expectations for Canyons School District.
But the vast majority -- 68 percent -- already have a somewhat favorable or very favorable impression of the fledgling district, a new opinion poll shows.
In an effort to gauge satisfaction with neighborhood schools, the Canyons Board of Education commissioned a poll of 1,209 parents of school-age children in Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, Sandy and the town of Alta. Dan Jones & Associates conducted the survey between April 21 and May 14 and has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.
"This is feedback straight from parents, the people receiving services and information from their schools and PTAs and principals," said district spokesman Jeff Haney.
Parents stressed a desire for more academic rigor, and a return to "the basics." They want smaller class sizes and more programming for gifted students. They also want more arts, music and competitive sports,
But the "take-away" for Canyons school board President Tracy Cowdell is that, "People are happy with the creation of the new district."
Canyons was born this summer after voters in east-side communities voted to break from Jordan School District, formerly Utah's largest.
Jordan, incidentally, received even higher marks than Canyons; 76 percent of parents have somewhat favorable or very favorable impressions of the parent district, the poll showed.
Jordan also drew higher numbers of unfavorable impressions.
But Cowdell prefers to focus on findings relevant to Canyons taxpayers and "those things that we as a board have the power to control and change."
One challenge for the board could be tempering expectations.
Parents overwhelmingly, about 56 percent, rated class size among the most important indicators of educational quality.
But school districts have limited control over class sizes, which are dictated by per-student spending by the Legislature.
Declining enrollment in pockets of the district, however, leaves more flexibility for planning, Cowdell said.
Cowdell said the board is committed to preserving neighborhood schools.
In addition, he said, the board is exploring an honors diploma for students willing to take on heavier loads. Board members are considering expanding gifted programs, bilingual education and so-called "dual enrollment" programs where students attend high school and community college at the same time.
"Some of these students will start college as juniors," Cowdell said.
And an ambitious program to bring athletics back to middle schools is already under way. A whopping 45 percent of parents say they want more sports offerings.
Other highlights from poll:
» Two-thirds --68 percent -- of the respondents say they are somewhat or very satisfied with the way things are progressing with the new district.
» Fifty-five percent of parents polled said they voted to create the new district, which became an official government entity July 1. Fewer than one in four -- 22 percent -- opposed it. Ten percent can't recall how they voted and 13 percent said they didn't vote.
» Parents were asked to rate schools on a scale of one to five, with lower scores indicating dissatisfaction. High schools, with a mean score of 3.98, attained the highest ratings, followed by elementary schools, with a mean of 3.83, and then middle schools, 3.58.