New Canyons School District superintendent focused on improving student mental health

(Photo Courtesy of Canyons School District) Pictured is new Canyons School District Superintendent Rick Robins.

Canyons School District has selected a new superintendent who’s focused on expanding access to mental health resources for students in the aftermath of the coronavirus and beyond.

Rick Robins was voted in as the new leader unanimously by the district’s board of education Tuesday night during a virtual meeting and will take the helm July 1. He will primarily be tasked with managing what many hope will be a return to the classroom in the fall after months away to stem the spread of the outbreak.

A lot of students, Robins said after the announcement, will likely come back with new fears and concerns, and some with ongoing ones. His goal will be making sure all have a place to go to talk about what they’re experiencing. It’s one of the biggest challenges in education in Utah, which has one of the highest rates of youth suicide — and one that Robins has been working to address for his 25-year career.

“I think that’s really the charge for all of us,” he said. “We’re all very concerned about the wellbeing of our kids.”

Robins’ hope is to hire more counselors and therapists so that schools are not sharing them.

He will replace outgoing superintendent Jim Briscoe, who has led the district since 2014 and is retiring this summer. Robins will be the fourth leader of Canyons, which was formed in 2009.

Robins is currently the superintendent of Juab School District in rural central Utah, where he has spent the last six years. Before that, he started his education career as a teacher at Copper Hills High in Jordan School District and moved through the administrations in Alpine and Nebo districts.

Robins believes many of the same issues affect both rural and suburban areas, but they often require different approaches. He intends to use his experience in both to lead Canyons. In addition to “bridging the mental health services” for students, he’s also looking at the teacher shortage — something that districts across the state are worried about. Currently, there are about 1,600 fewer educators than needed in Utah.

“That’s something that’s on top of mind for everyone,” he said.

He was interested in teaching, he said, “as early as I can remember.” Growing up, he used to spend time in classrooms with his dad, who taught elementary students for 40 years. “This is my fabric,” he added. He wants others to feel the same passion — and be paid well for it so they’ll stay in the field.

The new superintendent was selected after a two-month search and among three finalists. He will lead the district about about 34,000 students in just under 50 schools, encompassing the south end of Salt Lake County, including Midvale, Sandy and Draper.

Board President Nancy Tingey applauded the decision Tuesday, saying that Robins will be able to lead Canyons well amidst a crisis and after.

“This is an historic occasion during an unprecedented moment in our state and world,” she said in a statement. “Even amidst the challenges of the times, the members of the board of education took seriously the responsibility to find a leader who reflects the traits and characteristics identified through input from patrons and employees, and one who will inspire continued success in our district.”