Canyons District is mourning the death of a beloved and veteran educator who dedicated much of his career to providing a pathway to education for Spanish-speaking families. Hillcrest High Assistant Principal Dr. Paul Kirby, who was lauded in 2011 as Utah’s Assistant Principal of the Year, passed away on Friday, April 17, 2015.
Doctors say he suffered a stroke on April 9, 2015. He was treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah until his death. He is survived by two sisters, Kristeen Polhanus and Annette Denucci. He will be fondly remembered by generations of students who were touched by his dedication to education and positive approaches to student behavior.
“Dr. Paul Kirby was a vital part of the administrative team at Hillcrest High. He had a special spirit, kind soul, and a deep love for the students who he greeted every day in the hallways,” said Principal Sue Malone. “Not only was Paul a consummate leader and a dependable colleague, he was a close and loyal friend. I will miss him tremendously. Hillcrest simply won’t be the same without him.”
Dr. Kirby has been an educator since 1993, when he was hired as a Spanish teacher at Treasure Mountain Middle School in Park City and Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School in Salt Lake City. He joined the Judge Memorial faculty as a Spanish teacher in 1994 and moved to Copper Hills High School in 1995, where he also assumed the role as Foreign Languages Department Chair. In 1999, he became the Assistant Principal at West Jordan High, and was transferred a year later to Brighton High. He was an ardent supporter of the Bengals for 10 years before beginning his assignment in 2010 as an assistant principal of Hillcrest High. Dr. Kirby, who also has worked as an adjunct Spanish instructor at Utah State University and Salt Lake Community College, embraced his new role as one of the Huskies’ biggest cheerleaders and bridge-builder to the Hispanic community that surrounds the Midvale-area school.
“Dr. Kirby was one of the most caring educators with whom I have had the pleasure of associating,” said Dr. Robert Dowdle, Canyons District’s Assistant Superintendent of School Performance, who worked with Dr. Kirby while both were assistant principals at Brighton High.
“With students, he was uniquely patient and always encouraged them to reach for their highest potential. With parents, he was understanding and empathic, and always sought workable solutions to challenges. With faculty and staff, he was fun, funny and trusted to be fair and straightforward,” Dr. Dowdle said. “On a professional level, we will miss his skills and talents in our schools. On a personal level, I’ll miss everything about him. He was a friend and a colleague, and I’m a better person for having known him.”
Dr. Kirby was a well-known and respected scholar in foreign-language instruction and Spanish language and literature. He studied Spanish and medieval literature at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain, earned his first of two master’s degrees in Spanish Language and Medieval Literature from the University of Utah, and in 2012, as he received his Ph.D. from Utah State University, he was lauded for the high quality of the qualitative research in his doctoral dissertation, “Research into the Utility of Standards in Foreign Language.”
Across the district, extra counseling services are being provided to students and teachers who may need additional support in the grieving process. The Hillcrest student body officers, supported by counselors and the school administration, invited their fellow students to write messages on banners that were then placed in Dr. Kirby’s hospital room. Their messages were heartfelt and tender. Banners also were placed in the faculty rooms for staff to write their messages to Dr. Kirby.
“Indeed, it’s a sad day in Canyons District,” said Sherril H. Taylor, president of the Canyons Board of Education. “The whole community is mourning the loss of Dr. Kirby, who is known throughout the Salt Lake Valley as a caring and dedicated educator and leader. While our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time, we also express our appreciation for Dr. Kirby’s years of service in our schools. His positive influence has been felt for more than two decades, and I believe it will continue to be felt for generations to come.”