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Sandy Journal

Canyons School District’s APEX nominations open; top administrator shares her story

Aug 11, 2023 09:41AM ● By Julie Slama

An Altara Elemetnary student gets a high-five from Principal Nicole Svee Magann, who was one of Canyons School District’s APEX award-winners last year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Nicole Svee Magann first taught as a high school English teacher and debate coach. Now she is a tenured elementary principal, recently assigned to Willow Canyon Elementary after administrating for 10 years at Altara Elementary.

She also was honored last year with the Apex Award, Canyons School District’s highest award.

“I was really surprised because there are so many good principals in this district,” she said. “I was just shocked; it’s certainly not something you do alone. I’m an Apex principal because I have phenomenal teachers and awesome support staff. Everybody in this building works hard for kids, they should get the credit, not me.”

Nominations for the top honors in Canyons School District are open through Aug. 7.

Selected teachers, administrators, support staff, volunteers, business partners and others are honored for their contributions, hard work and dedication to advancing the mission and vision of Canyons District. Categories include school administrator of the year, business partner for the year, volunteer of the year, elected official of the year, student support services professional of the year, education support professional of the year and legacy award.

The Apex Award also is given to the Canyons’ teacher of the year, Max Eddington, Midvale Middle’s mathematics teacher. He was selected from a field of 47 teachers representing every school in the district last spring.

The 2023 Apex Awards honorees are celebrated at an awards ceremony in the fall.

For Svee Magann, it was a chance to share her story.

“I look at public education as one of the greatest gifts that America has because it’s one of the great equalizers having the opportunity to be in the classroom to shape the minds of our youth and to go into administration to support the staff is a great honor,” she said, adding that her family line includes teachers and a superintendent. “My grandmother, who was probably one of my biggest influences, taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Montana. She had married a rancher that had a 2,000-acre cattle ranch, and in a bunk house, she stored all her old primers. I’d go in there and memorize poems and pretend to be teaching. I have old-fashioned handwriting; for hours, my grandmother would make me do loops, and circles and O’s to practice my penmanship.”

Svee Magann used her grandmother’s guiding approach in her career.

“When I taught, I influenced kids. As an administrator, I can impact more kids because I can influence their teachers. I’ve taught high school (at her alma mater, Taylorsville) and middle school, but elementary is a natural fit. I’ve been in every classroom here doing less,” she said. “Teaching is the best job.”

At the end of her decade at Altara, Svee Magann directed 670 students, up from 400; she oversaw the introduction of the school’s preschool and Spanish dual immersion program.

While she advocated for Spanish dual immersion, as neighborhood parents sought it, Svee Magann believes part of elementary school extends beyond the curriculum.

“Elementary is about learning how to be kind and learning to be friends,” she said. “It about learning how school systems work, and for students, feeling confident in their ability to persevere and achieve. It’s also about relationships. When kids have trust in an adult, the adults can teach and guide them and the students are going to achieve more. They’re key to what makes the kids successful all the way through high school. Schools need to be a place where you feel safe and loved. Teachers are good at differentiating the needs in their class — those kids who are still learning to read, those kids who are reading Harry Potter. They can give extra to kids who need to be challenged or extra attention to the kids that need to be helped. I do my best not to let kids fall through the cracks. We have our student support teams, and as principals, we’re tracking data on kids, making sure teachers, parents, interventionists, and everyone is giving opportunities for them to be successful,” she said. 

Through her years in education, Svee Magann has seen more focus emphasized on student learning. 

“Today I was observing my kindergarten teacher leading singing and dancing, but these kids are also doing mathematics. Not everyone knows the rigor in kindergarten. It’s no longer just a place where you get your graham cracker and milk and take a nap. These kids are reading and writing stories, and with the amount of work that kids do, I wonder if we’re not a little bit task oriented, especially at the end of the year with test scores. The legislature expects us to have certain growth goals. There’s a lot of pressure on our teachers to meet these academic goals, but when you look at the amount of time they have in a day, they’re just teaching nonstop. A lot of the soft things have gone, and sometimes they need that. At the same time, we need to keep the bar high for kids. Even if they’re down here, you keep that bar high, because they’re going to try to reach the it. You may need to have a lot of scaffolds of support, but you keep that bar high,” she said.

One opportunity that Svee Magann has included at Altara is the opportunity to explore at Camp Tracy for a day each school year. The partnership came about through her former student, who oversees programming.

“Camp Tracy is a day where they’re still learning, having fun and just having a chance to be kids in the outdoors. They’re bonding, creating friendships and learning those soft skills. They also have the opportunity to 

be expressive so through our Beverley Taylor Sorenson program, our kids are doing that in dance. Playworks and recess gives kids time just to be kids and that’s important too,” she said.

That is especially important to her after online learning during COVID-19.

“COVID was a huge, traumatic event for everybody. We know trauma shapes the brain. People changed, families changed, our country changed as we had political unrest and kids are perceptive. Even if you don’t use language, they feel things. The last couple years, we’ve seen an increase in anxiety. Kids are used to iPads, phones, and screens so they aren’t interacting with each other as much as they have in the past and that contributes,” Svee Magann said.

Many schools, like Altara, have a wellness room, a place for students to take a moment to regulate their emotions.

“We have a place for them to feel safe and be able to calm down, to be able to breathe and focus and continue with school,” she said. “Social emotional health is important for our kiddos.”

Svee Magann just completed her 30th year in education. She’s been in schools during 9-11, a school shooting and the pandemic, she’s had students give her hugs and cards and she’s had students lash out and swear in classrooms.

“Sometimes, they’re the ones that need to be loved the most. I learned to judge less and love more,” she said. “The most important thing in our world is to be kind and to love people where they’re at. We don’t know the battles people are fighting so it’s an important lesson to not judge. We need to show forgiveness. We all have moments when we’re not our best selves, so we just need to love them anyway. We want everyone to feel safe, be loved and accepted and have the same opportunity to learn.” λ