As the son of two parents who were educators, David Doty figured he’d follow a pretty traditional route in the K-12 field, especially once he landed a Spanish teaching job right out of college.
But the 46-year-old who spent his formative years in Iowa City, Iowa, has taken a widely circuitous route to his current berth as superintendent of the Canyons School District, a 33,000-student system in Sandy, Utah, only in its third year of existence. In the intervening years, Doty earned a law degree, spent eight years practicing in law firms in Columbia, S.C., and Salt Lake City, Utah, and then wound up as assistant commissioner of higher education in Utah for four years.
Almost anyone else probably would apply those experiences to land a post well beyond the fray, but Doty is unlike most school leaders of the moment.
Calling his former colleague “one of the brightest lights around,” retired superintendent Rich Kendall says Doty could by now “be a faculty member in a law school or college of education or in private practice, but he’s very idealistic and has chosen to be a school superintendent and take on all the rough and tumble that goes with it.”
Doty has seized full advantage of the entrepreneurial opportunities that accompany the startup of a new school system, Utah’s first in 100 years. With an ample dose of personal energy and a unique fascination with social media to connect with those in his community, the affable Doty already has put in place some progressive ideas, including differentiated diplomas for high schoolers.
The diploma plan gives students three options — the standard state diploma, an advanced diploma or an honors diploma, with the latter two requiring higher-level course work that will better ensure readiness for college and career. More than 60 percent of the first graduating class opted for advanced or honors.
“I’ve felt strongly for a long time that high schools and middle schools do not demand enough from kids,” says Doty, a parent of three. “We’ve allowed kids to settle for the path of least resistance.”
He’s also not afraid of a good fight. He’s put his legal acumen to good use during the divisive startup of Canyons, which was carved out of the former Jordan School District, absorbing some upscale neighborhoods and low-income areas. A two-year court battle over the legitimacy of the vote creating the district wasn’t settled until six months into Canyons’ first school year.
Doty recently challenged the state education department to allow Canyons to use what he considered a better alternative to DIBELS, the state’s adopted reading fluency test, to assess pupils in the primary grades.
He’s engendered plenty of goodwill for his aggressive stances and quickened pace of program adoption in the young district largely through his prolific use of personal technology. Doty, who is fluent in Spanish, keeps his staff and community well apprised of his moves through an oft-used Twitter feed that now has 3,600 followers, a regularly updated Facebook page and a blog, Dave’s Dialogue, that invites feedback.
“I’ve found these tools tremendously helpful in the circumstances of our district,” he says, pointing to a successful $250 million bond election last June despite the recession. “There’s an insatiable appetite for information.”
The Salt Lake Tribune, in a headline last March, called Doty “the great communicator.” A local TV news segment described him as an “uber-Tweeter.”
Doty’s vision of a progressive education system has captured the popular fancy of those who supported the breakaway from the existing district, according to Kelvyn Cullimore, mayor of Cottonwood Heights, a city contained in Canyons School District. “He goes to bat for what he believes will help kids.”
Jay Goldman is editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
BIO STATS: DAVE DOTY
Currently: superintendent, Canyons School District, Sandy, Utah
Previously: assistant commissioner, Utah System of Higher Education, Salt Lake City, Utah
Greatest influence on career: My mother was an elementary school teacher, and my father was a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Iowa while I was growing up. They both instilled in me a love of teaching and encouraged me to pursue education as a career.
Best professional day: Jan. 7, 2010, when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the November 2007 vote creating the Canyons School District, putting an end to the nearly three-year legal battle that placed the new district’s future under a cloud of uncertainty. This decision lifted a huge burden.
Books at bedside: A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair; The Long Run by Matt Long; and Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault
Biggest Blooper: I testified before the Senate Education Committee on a state bill requiring schools to recognize parent groups besides the PTA. I stated I could see the benefits. Then I had to leave and didn’t realize several supporters who testified after me represented groups with a history of attacking public schools. The next day’s newspaper story mentioned me in connection with these groups, and I immediately received dozens of angry e-mails from PTA members in my district that reached a fever pitch.
Why I’m an AASA member: Especially because I came into the superintendency through a nontraditional route, AASA has been a critical learning resource for me, immensely helpful as a way to network with colleagues.