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Canyons superintendent the great communicator

Published March 28, 2011 7:30 pm

Education • Executive embraces social media to stay in contact with his school district.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • When charges of racism emerged last week at Alta High School, David Doty knew he would be expected to respond.

So the Canyons School District superintendent logged on to his computer and went to his Facebook page — the one anchored by a photo of Doty with his family. There, he penned his official response.

"For those who saw this report," Doty typed, "let me be clear ... ."

In 73 words, Doty denounced racism and promised an immediate investigation into allegations that a student, dressed in white for a spirit event, added a white hood to resemble a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

It was typical of Doty, 44, a prolific social-media user who has become a master of public outreach to help sell — and strengthen — his young district.

"I think using these social-media tools is a way to communicate with people where they are," Doty said. "It's not waiting for them to come to you, it's taking the information to them."

As the face of the 2-year-old district, which splintered from the Jordan School District after a public vote in 2007, Doty has prioritized visiting each of the schools and breaking down walls between parents, teachers and what he termed the "nebulous office of the superintendent."

He has organized several "Ski and Shred With the Superintendent" events at Brighton Ski Resort and last week took a group of students and parents to attend Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's speech at BYU. Faculty members said he is the most hands-on administrator they have ever encountered.

"I would say, in the first year Canyons was around, he was at at least two or three of our football games," said Marc Hunter, a Jordan High School math teacher and its athletic director. "I was personally invited into his office three or four times. We communicated by text or by Facebook hundreds of times."

Hunter said he could "count on one hand" the number of conversations he had with the superintendent when Canyons was part of the Jordan School District.

With Doty, there is always at least one streaming conversation — online.

On Twitter, where his user name is @CanyonsDave, Doty writes about his love for the sports teams at BYU and Stanford, the schools from which he received his four degrees. His feed is often lighthearted and personal, but it's also topical to issues in education.

He has also posted about controversial issues: commending BYU basketball for its suspension of center Brandon Davies after the sophomore's honor-code violation and blasting the Legislature for its focus on a bill creating a state gun.

In January, Doty was listed as one of "50 tweeters every Utahn should follow" by social-media blog TheHungryHive.com. Also this year, he was selected as Utah's "Communicator of the Year" by the International Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America.

As of Friday, Doty had tweeted 18,240 times since joining the service on April 2, 2009. Averaging 25 tweets per day, Doty has certainly been prolific during the past two years. Consider a recent week, in which Doty tweeted 358 times, an average of more than 50 per day.

Each time he posts a thought, it is directed to each of his 3,105 followers, including Nancy Tingey.

Doty singled out the mother of two Canyons students as the parent who most frequently engages him on Twitter.

"People are kind of demanding that kind of openness," said Tingey, adding that Twitter allows her to be a "fly on the wall" with the district.

For a district that was formed out of division and dissatisfaction, Doty has tried to pull everyone together. It's tough in education, though, particularly in Doty's district, where he has to answer for decisions made when its schools were part of the Jordan School District.

"The fact that he's made himself accessible and has tried to get out there and know some people, I just think is a great thing," Hunter said. "Whether you're someone who agrees or disagrees with his policy is not the point."

Now, Doty is spearheading plans for ninth-graders to attend high schools and the development of a new high school in Draper.

With 33,000 students, Doty had few options to reach everyone. Early on, he doubted that social media was the way to do it. He feared instant electronic communication would be "trite."

That quickly faded, though, Doty said. After his brief post about the incident at Alta last week, he started getting messages from parents who wanted to know more. It led to concerned emails and phone calls.

The response affirmed a belief he laid out in a January interview.

"This could be a way — not the way, but a way — to really connect to people," Doty said, "as a person, a real person, throughout the district."

boram@sltrib.comTwitter: @oramb —

David Doty

Employment • Before joining Canyons School District, Doty served as an assistant commissioner for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Education • Doty, an Iowa native, holds bachelor's, law and doctoral degrees from BYU, as well as a master's degree from Stanford.

Follow him • @CanyonsDave on Twitter

He tweeted it • "On the way home, dude in a pickup saw my BYU car flag and flipped me off. Whatever — hope it made you feel good. — @CanyonsDave; 5:16 p.m., March 21






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