Kearns High Community School Adding 9th Grade!

Steve Whatcottby Steve Whatcott
Kearns High Community School Director

Beginning August, 2014, 9th grade students in Kearns who have always attended their local junior high schools will now be attending Kearns High Community School. This represents a significant change for not only students and their families, but also for the junior and senior high schools. Both Jefferson Jr. and Kearns Jr. will lose a third of its student body as well as dozens of teachers and other support staff. At the same time, Kearns High will add almost 800 new students, bringing the total student population to nearly 2,400 students. They will be adding over 25 new teachers, plus additional administrators, counselors, and other support staff. The change will require extremely creative use of facilities and resources, including rearranging several teachers’ classrooms and building multiple new portable classrooms.

So why go through all of this hassle to change something that has been functioning for decades? What could possibly prompt all of this disruption? Simply put, students must come first. Specifically, student graduation. With only an average of less than 67% of students receiving their high school diplomas over the past five years, hundreds of students each year are falling through the cracks. For most of these students, the slide begins during their ninth grade year. Course grades count towards high school graduation in ninth grade, even though they are taken at the junior high school. Unfortunately, many students begin digging a hole for themselves by failing multiple classes during freshman year. For some who fail as many as 10-20 quarter credit classes, that hole can get very deep before even setting foot in high school. This year, over two-thirds of incoming sophomores will have at least one F in a core subject; that puts them off-track for graduation and at-risk for dropping out.

The goal in having ninth grade students attend high school is to not only significantly reduce the number of students who fail classes, but also to constantly reinforce the message that all students can succeed and graduate high school being college and career ready. The atmosphere at Kearns High is very welcoming. It also actively promotes high expectations for student achievement. It offers multiple opportunities to connect to the school via athletics, the performing arts, school organizations, and clubs. Students will be served by the same school counselor for four years. The counselor, along with other mentors and school support staff will be able to constantly guide, motivate, and direct students to what they need to be successful, graduate, and prepare for life after college. Most students have chosen to enroll in the Frehsman Academy, a semester class designed to support students’ study skills and help them focus on how to effectively direct their high school education towards college and career readiness. If they meet their goal, more and more ninth grade students will not only survive, but they will really thrive at Kearns High School!

Kearns High School 2013

Kearns Jr. High

What does it mean to LIVE UNITED?

matt_q_headshotMatt Quigley
Administrative Assistant

To answer this question, I have to look back at how I got to United Way of Salt Lake.

I first heard of United Way of Salt Lake while I worked in development at Pioneer Theatre Company. My initial understanding of what UWSL did fell into the old “Community Chest” model of philanthropy; primarily, seeing donor-directed gifts moving through United Way to the theatre. When I started to look for a new job, however, I discovered United Way of Salt Lake is much more than a funnel for funds. UWSL’s shift to a Collective Impact strategy was a turning point for how the organization truly helps to change the odds for kids and families in our community. From my initial tip-toes into UWSL, to launching myself into our recent (and very successful!) internal campaign, seeing what UWSL is doing in our community excites me and ties much of my understanding of how the world works together.

I studied history at the University of Utah for five years, focusing on 20th century America. What interests me most about history is the way that much of the social, economic, and political change that happens in this world, starts and is largely driven at a local, community-based level. I believe that much of the social ill in the world can and must be addressed within our communities. Secondly, I believe that education is a primary driving force for that change.

It is no wonder why UWSL appealed to me as an organization dedicated to changing the odds in our community. What it means to me to LIVE UNITED is not only to be united with the people in my community, but to an idea that we must unite our time, resources, and commitments to make lasting changes. I have seen how a diverse and unified approach can lead to amazing results in communities, and I believe that is what we are doing here in our own backyards at United Way of Salt Lake.

The Effects of Our Efforts

Tim Coray
Granger Elementary Community School Director

United Way of Salt Lake recently hosted the Summer Institute at Granite School District. Summer Institute is an opportunity for schools and principals to come together to learn more about Promise Partnerships and Community School Work. This year, the featured speaker was Steve Ventura, former superintendent, principal and teacher, and nationally recognized thought leader on school transformation.

“The most powerful variable in school improvement is instructional leadership.” Steve Ventura began this year’s Summer Institute at Granite School District offices with this finding. On June 18 and 19, Community School Directors and Principals engaged in conversations and action planning for the upcoming school year. Steve Ventura, a California-based consultant with a background in teaching and administrating schools, facilitated this training focused on contemporary leadership and school improvement strategies.

In my previous career as a teacher, I knew there were many variables in my classroom: attendance, engagement, parent and co-worker collaboration, preparation (both mine and my students’), and on and on. During my first years in the profession, I used to fret over those factors equally and constantly. Surely, each had the ability to impact my students’ success, and I thought I ought to be able to improve them. However, with time and research, I learned the effect of each of those considerations was neither equal nor within my control. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned during that time was to concentrate my labor on endeavors with which I could affect the greatest change and to limit the sleep I lost over the others.

I recall that experience because the lesson I learned in my own classroom as a teacher was validated during the Summer Institute training. Steve Ventura empowered us with the research and tools to make decisions about where we put our greatest effort based on effect size and desired outcomes. In one exercise, Community School Directors and administration teams listed the programs and initiatives in place in our schools with the goal of analyzing the degree of implementation and the impact each had on students’ achievement. Completing this exercise through the lens of both teachers and administrators allowed us to identify areas of success as well as target programs in need of reconsideration or improved focus. In addition to refining school leaders’ efforts, this practice highlighted the excellent opportunities afforded Community Schools and reminded us that we have a common goal of changing the odds for our students.


Reflecting on the Institute, Granger Principal Amber Clayton agreed. “The difference between this professional development and others is that all our training reminds school leadership of the importance of focusing our energy on areas that affect student achievement the most; however, Steve Ventura gave us the inspiration and tools to do so.”

The key word throughout our Summer Institute was leadership. A program or initiative is the most successful when aligned with the greater goals of the school and implemented with fidelity. Those variables are in the hands of a school’s leadership.


amy_worthingtonAmy Worthington
Volunteer Events and Training Coordinator

On June 19, more than 125 attorneys, staff, family members, and clients from Holland and Hart LLP celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Salt Lake City office with a day of service at Kearns Junior High Community School.

Starting this fall, all 9th grade students and teachers from Kearns Junior High will be moved to Kearns High School. This major transition created a great need for helping hands to offer assistance to the staff and faculty of Kearns Junior.

Volunteers completed 16 different projects, including the tasks of painting, landscaping, cleaning lockers, auditorium chairs, and windows, organizing drama costumes and donated clothing, refurbishing two long-jump pits, assembling registration packets, moving musical instruments and furniture to new classrooms, and helping prepare rooms for the fall when students come back to school.

The 500+ hours of work and various donations given by the volunteers of Holland and Hart made a significant impact at Kearns Junior High. The overwhelming to do list of tasks that needed to be completed prior to school starting in the fall was significantly lessened thanks to their generosity.

This service project was chosen by Holland and Hart in response to Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Year of Service in Utah” challenge, which asked citizens of Utah to volunteer an additional 20 hours of service in their communities. We encourage each of you to do your part to heed the call from Governor Herbert! Show how you LIVE UNITED by signing up to participate in service projects in our community. Visit for a variety of available opportunities.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Representative Jim Matheson Visits Kearns Junior High

McLeod, Scottby Scott McLeod                                                                                Sr. Director of Community School Partnerships

Kearns Jr. High has a lot to be proud of. It is a school that continues to improve academically, outperforming many demographically similar schools, and has a thriving United Way Community School effort. Additionally, it was recently named a national School to Watch for all its incredible work and student improvement.

Congressman-Matheson-ASP-ViTo honor these incredible accomplishments, Kearns Jr. was recently visited by none other than U.S. Representative Jim Matheson, which was amazing to say the least! In late May, Rep. Matheson came to Kearns Jr. to congratulate the school and to get a glimpse of the partnership that helps make it happen. His tour included visiting the after school program, the Kids Café food program, the on-sight preschool program, and a conversation about the Community School partnership. It was a wonderful experience for everyone.


During the tour, not only did Rep. Matheson get to learn about the work being done at Kearns Jr., he also got to visit with the students themselves, including the student body officers and the key club. He is clearly a passionate public servant and invested in the future of Utah’s students. Thanks to all of the partners, to Kearns Jr. High and to Representative Matheson for such a great day!


Granger Elementary Students Improve Reading Scores!

McLeod, Scottby Scott McLeod                                                                               Sr. Director of Community School Partnerships

There are many different terms we use for making things better than they were. With children, we talk about “learning from our mistakes.” With adults we believe we should “leave things better than when we found them.” At United Way, we take this notion very seriously, and even have a name for it, “continuous improvement.” And, like many efforts to achieve excellence, this involves cultivating both a culture and a daily practice. United Way Promise Partners also take continuous improvement seriously, particularly the Community Schools, whose core function is often to help kids achieving well below grade level, and bring them up to speed.

In January, Granger Elementary had a very rude awakening. Looking at the mid-year reading scores, not only were students not improving at the anticipated rate to ensure they achieved their end of year goals, they were actually decreasing in some grade levels, meaning they were further behind than when they started at the beginning of the year.

DSC_0070And this is where a continuous improvement culture matters.  Continuous improvement means continually monitoring your actions and practices to see where they can be improved. Granger had already done a lot to improve reading instruction, including small group work, one-on-one tutoring, additional instructors, and much more. But, rather than resting on their laurels, Granger staff doubled down. They focused their core instruction on the specific components of reading, such as fluency, accuracy, and retell. They sought out practice tests, evaluated the results, and tweaked instruction to individualize each student’s particular need.

DSC_0136And, it paid off! Granger students just finished their end-of-year reading tests, four of the seven grades reached or exceled their year-end goals, and all of them improved for the year.  Given this type of result, who knows what great things will be achieved next year!

Get Involved with WLC and Mentoring!

by Jamie Schwarzenbach
Women’s Leadership Council Member

As trees begin to bud and the weather warms up, many of us are planning our summer vacations and waiting for the snow to melt. A few weeks ago, a group of Women’s Leadership Council members met to learn about some new volunteer activities that will kickoff this spring. With new opportunities to mentor at-risk kids, there are volunteer options that fit into everyone’s schedule.

The “Get Connected, Get Involved” networking and informational meeting opened with some heart-warming thank you letters from the students at Granite Park Junior High. Students expressed their gratitude for the college funding and financial literacy lessons that WLC volunteers have provided over the past several months. Most of the students don’t have any family members or friends that have been to college, so these presentations give students hope that a college degree is attainable for them. These presentations also give students the skills needed to navigate the process.

Jamie Schwarzenbach IWLC members were excited to learn about the Mentor 2.0 program, which is a mentoring opportunity that will serve 75 10th-grade students at Cottonwood High School. These students are primarily refugees or first-generation college students that came to Cottonwood High from Granite Park Junior High. The Mentor 2.0 program is a partnership between United Way of Salt Lake and Big Brothers Big Sisters and will connect busy executive level mentors to students electronically. The school has found that students are more open in an email setting than they are face-to-face. Mentors will help students with their weekly topic though email, and then meet in person once a month to solidify what they have learned. This is a great opportunity for those who want to get involved with a mentoring program, but need a more flexible schedule and time commitment (approximately 3-4 hours per month).

During the meeting, we also learned about a short-term commitment with a big impact. We learned that over 87 percent of students at Cottonwood High have failed at least one core class needed for graduation. Volunteers can help get students back on track by helping them complete credit recovery packets, which are offered as a final chance for students to get the math, science, and other core credits they need to graduate. Many of the students in the at-risk group do not have family resources to help them with the packets, so the volunteers can help give them the confidence and encouragement they need to work through the assignments and complete them on time. The 9th Grade Credit and Recovery program starts soon and will be ongoing throughout the summer. There is a flexible schedule with a variety of one-hour time slots each week. The goal of this program is to get 100 percent of at-risk students on track to graduate, and there are over 175 students that could use your help! Just one hour of your time will help a student graduate from high school.

So, while you are scheduling camps and summer vacations, schedule some time to reach out to WLC and learn more about how you can help make a lasting difference for kids in our community.

Paulette Cary IIFor more information about the Women’s Leadership Council, or to sign up to volunteer please contact Zenia Frendt, Leadership Giving Director of the Women’s Leadership Council, at or (801) 736-7708.