As featured on Park Rag.
1. Tell us about yourself. How will you help make the Park City School Board the best that it has ever been?
I’m Nick Hill, father of one son, a third-grader at Parley’s Park. I grew up in southeast England, immigrated to the US in 2008, and become a US Citizen in 2019. I have lived in Park City for 8 years, but I’ve been coming here and had ties to the area since 2005.
Professionally, I am a project manager with over 20 years experience working collaboratively with diverse groups of stakeholders at all levels of organizations in various industries. Relationship and stakeholder management, communication, and leadership are all essential in my professional life and equally valuable to achieve positive outcomes for the school district. I also have a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Colorado Boulder.
I’m running for the School Board because I believe in the district’s potential. I believe that we can support teachers and elevate their voices, bring decision-making into the open, and rebuild the trust between the district and its stakeholders with transparent dialogue. I believe we can hold people accountable when legitimate procedures are ignored, putting children at risk and wasting money. I believe we can focus budgets on getting resources into classrooms, rather than administrators’ and attorneys’ pockets. I believe when we are honest about the challenges our school district faces we will find great strength in meeting them together as a community.
2. The majority of Park City families’ property taxes go to the Park City School District. Many of us have had our taxes triple over the last decade. How will you balance ensuring our educators are paid fairly while ensuring taxes are within residents’ means?
I think it’s important to recognize that wages are only one (critical) component of what those taxes fund. Currently the district is near the top statewide in spending per student, close to double the average. That’s a good thing, but what is that money spent on, and how much of it is debt financed? I believe we need to evaluate and reprioritize the budget to get more money to teachers and their classrooms, and to identify sources of waste. We also need to look at how effective we are at generating additional sources of revenue.
We can look at the overall structure of a district that is top heavy with highly-paid administrators. We can look at the number of no-bid contracts and the ineffective tools and services used within the district. We can fix processes and hold people accountable for failures so that we’re not spending significant sums on attorneys to defend the district from legal challenges. We might also look at whether we are maximizing revenue from facilities like the Eccles Center and the Aquatic Center. Unless we look at actions like these, sooner or later taxes will have to rise again.
3. Should the book Fun Home by Alison Bechdel be in the Treasure Mountain Junior High library. Why or why not?
I haven’t read it, and I didn’t have time to before responding to these questions (though I looked up the themes, controversies, and some critical reviews). That being said, I’m not sure I am qualified to comment on the specifics of the book. In general, however, I believe it is incredibly important that children can access books which represent their and their peers’ lived experiences, and these are certainly lived experiences for some children in that age-range. I do not personally believe it is productive to hide children from social realities. I believe it is much better to have meaningful conversations to help them navigate the world around us.
I also recognize that is a decision I can make for my own child, not for other people’s. Utah State law now expressly allows for parents to trigger review of books in schools, with a committee reflecting each school community determining if any reviewed book should be kept in their school or not. Parents also have the ability to opt out of any class texts they do not want their children reading, and of course they can determine what library books they want their children to read. So parents have plenty of freedom to make decisions for their own children without making decisions for mine, or vice versa.
The reality is that children today have personal computers in their pockets that can access all the internet has to offer. My son (3rd grade) doesn’t have a phone, and he won’t for some considerable time, but even last year he was watching things essentially unsupervised on friends’ phones during recess. To my mind that provides a much more significant threat than the books in the library, but unless I plan to homeschool him there is always a limit to what I can control, so I believe my job is to prepare him for the world, rather than hide him from it.
4. The school district has been involved in a number of controversies recently (mask mandates, child abuse, building permits, etc.). Do you think PCSD needs to change? If not, why not? If so, why?
I do think it needs to change, and that’s why I’m running! I’m concerned that the common thread between all the listed controversies above appears to be a systemic disregard for legitimate procedures in the district administration – a belief that rules simply don’t apply to us. That cannot be acceptable. The mask mandates were about protecting a community during a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Child abuse reporting requirements ensure a fair hearing for both accused and accuser, and protect the school district from legal risk. Building permits ensure safety, and environmental protection, for all of us.
When we disregard these things, there are costs. Rejecting the mask mandate put many in our community at serious risk, caused parents to miss work and children to miss school at a time when we had done so much to keep them open, and increased the likelihood that a school would have to be closed entirely. The failure to report suspected sexual abuse left a huge emotional cost on those directly affected, but it also cost the district in legal fees and reputational standing, and ultimately resulted in a beloved educator leaving the district unable to properly clear their name. Having a major building program shut down for months certainly came at a reputational cost, and likely added to legal fees, in addition to inflationary costs on materials and the budget impact of having workers and equipment sitting idle. (It should be noted the district claims there is no budget impact, but offers no explanation for how that could be so.)
It is more than just these well-documented controversies, however. Staff morale is low, class sizes are rising, the trust between the District and its stakeholders is broken, and school performance is trending down. By one ranking (based on State Board of Education reported test scores), our highest elementary school is ranked 38th in the state, while our lowest is 177th at time of writing. Another ranking has our High School at 21st in the state. We can and should do better. We have to change the culture of the district, because the status quo isn’t working for too many of our children, our educators, or our other stakeholders.
5. What is one thing you will deliver if elected to the school board?
I firmly believe that bringing our district back to the top has to begin with transparent dialogue between the district and its stakeholders – including, but not limited to, teachers and parents. Nobody can reasonably expect that every decision made by an elected body will be met with universal approval, but when we communicate openly and bring decision-making into the open we give stakeholders a chance to recognize and respect that decisions come from a thoughtful evaluation of different facts and viewpoints. Involving people in the process is also critical to getting buy-in and building consensus.
To that end I believe communication presents several quick wins, and I am committed to delivering new communication channels, both through use of technology and in person, to meet the district’s stakeholders where they are. I also give my word that I will always personally communicate as openly and fully as I am able, including with local media.
6. What’s the most impactful memory you have of when you were in elementary school?
I love this question, because almost everything we have been asked over the past few months deals with difficult and often contentious issues. This is a wonderful reminder that we were all in elementary school once, and we could not have imagined the labels that we now either willingly accept or have imposed on us – the idea of looking for difference rather than commonality. So what do I remember from elementary school? I remember teachers, I remember pogo sticks in the school yard, I remember friends (some of which I still know today, albeit from far away), but the most impactful? That would have to be the social and emotional jolt of changing schools. I have heard too many parents, and too many teachers, say they are doing just that because of this school district. That is incredibly sad, and there is no bigger reason why we must see change.
How can Park City School District attract and retain quality teachers and support staff such as paraprofessionals, custodians, and bus drivers?
In brief, competitive pay and a positive and supportive work environment. We're fortunate to live in such a special town, but Park City's challenges with affordable housing and childcare are well known and inescapable. Teachers and other staff must be able to afford to live a viable commute from our schools, and for those who are parents they must have access to childcare and schools a viable distance from their home and workplace.
The closure of the PCSD Child Care Center was a tragedy for exactly this reason. More broadly, we must create a supportive environment for staff. They must be free to raise concerns without fear of retribution, and their input must be respected. It's important to recognize, too, that we live in uniquely challenging times for school staff, particularly teachers, who must be supported to do the jobs they have trained for without unnecessary interference.
Park City School District recently began construction projects without the required state, county, and municipal permits. What actions would you support as a board member to ensure that district construction projects begin and proceed with appropriate approvals?
As a project manager I believe in the value of conducting retrospectives to gather lessons learned at the appropriate point, and ensuring those lessons are shared with all relevant stakeholders to build an improved process going forward. My concern here is that the whole sorry episode with the construction permits betrayed a much wider disregard for legitimate rules and process.
Of course, we all make mistakes, but when that happens we must acknowledge them and take action to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen again. Instead, the District initially argued about whether they needed the permits at all and then dismissed it as inconsequential. I believe there must be demonstrated accountability for whoever approved work without the requisite permits, but more importantly there must be a full review and accounting of what went wrong so we can put in place safeguards to prevent similar happening in future.
How do you propose to provide an equitable education to a diverse student population? In other words, how might you better assist underserved students and their parents?
First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the good work the Park City Education Foundation does in this space, but the District can do much more to directly support diverse populations. A demonstrated commitment to addressing this must include appropriate staffing to provide needed teacher support in classrooms (interventionists and aides), and representation both in the classrooms and in the district administration. That means placing DEI at the center of hiring efforts. The DEI Task Force should have been a good start in this direction, but its work was not sufficiently supported. Their recommendations included a full-time Chief DEI Officer reporting into the board. That would be an excellent step if the District is to be serious about its DEI efforts.
Do you think that collaboration with and transparency toward Park City School education stakeholders are important values for Park City School District board members? If not, why not? If so, how would you work to support these values?
I believe this is absolutely vital. We've sadly seen a board that has become increasingly insular and even hostile to stakeholders. That's both ethically troubling and practically unfortunate. We are very lucky to have stakeholders who have a deep passion for this School District. We need to find ways of embracing and harnessing that energy for positive change in the District. I believe that starts with a fundamental change in the attitude to public comment at monthly board meetings, but beyond that we need to make it much easier for stakeholders to communicate with the board. For example, use technology to set up new channels for communication, host regular open meetings for stakeholders to talk freely and informally with board members, and a formal stakeholder council with a representative invited to board meetings. These would all be great steps in the right direction.
Why are you running for the School Board? What experience, expertise, and insights would you bring to the Board?
I'm a project management professional with over 20 years of experience working collaboratively with diverse groups of stakeholders to meet expectations and achieve success in organizations large and small. I hold a Master's Degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Colorado Boulder. I'm running for the School Board because I believe in its potential, both for children like my own son - a third grader at PPES - and for the wider community. The strength of our School District impacts much more than just students and their immediate families. Students must be at the core, of course, but schools are funded through property taxes, students live in this town with us, good schools support property values and build a thriving community, and so on. The School Board is at the center of driving all that in a positive direction and I believe my experience and expertise will be hugely beneficial in that.
In three elementary schools (TSES, PPES, & JRES) many traditional classes are overwhelmingly loaded with too many students, and or too many students with learning and or behavior issues. What will you do to make Traditional Elementary classes more equitable to DLI classes so students can learn?
I've certainly heard these concerns, and I've shared the frustrations of many at the response from the District. I think ultimately this is a staffing issue, and really is connected to many of the questions we'll cover here.
How do we recruit and retain enough staff to keep class sizes down? We have to pay them enough that they can afford to live a viable commute from their work place. For those who are parents we have to make sure they have access to affordable childcare in proximity to their home and school. We have to really show that we value and support them. That can take a lot of forms, but for example, giving them proper in-classroom support, creating a culture where they are free to express opinions and raise concerns without fear of reprisal, and where they feel heard rather than dismissed. We have to stop micromanaging from the district office and allow all staff to do their jobs - the jobs they were hired to do, and that they trained and qualified for.
Teachers need to know that the Board and District leadership have their backs when it comes to decisions about what is taught in their classrooms. Unfortunately in too many cases now the problem is political interference at state and national levels, but I believe the school district should be a leading voice in fighting back against that. Essentially it boils down to creating a positive and supportive work environment and getting compensation right so we have enough staff to reduce class sizes.
What is your position on increasing the compensation for ESPs (Education Support Professionals) in Park City School District, especially considering the ESP staffing shortages this year?
Compensation is a critical component of staffing, not just for ESPs but for teachers, bus drivers, all staff. That was the justification for the additional tax increase they just passed, and I hope they'll be able to quickly show how that has positively impacted wages for all staff, and hopefully recruitment and retention as a result.
I think one of the challenges the district has had is that compensation is high at the upper administrative levels of the district, and the staffing model is top heavy. What I think we need to see, and I hope we will see, is a priority on the lower levels where compensation is a real issue for staff, and it is directly affecting staffing levels and motivation.
How can we improve the financial transparency of the district?
Financial transparency is important, and certainly I think they can do a much better job of proactively communicating where money is going and why they constantly run a budget deficit, but I see this as just one component of much wider issues with transparency.
We need a fundamental shift in how the Board and the District administration interacts with the public. Part of that needs to be technology based: better tools, and better use of them. With the new website, for example, information is harder to locate than it was before, and there are so many other technical tools that could and should be used to create new communication channels with all the district's stakeholders, but a lot of it is cultural. Too often the impression coming from the upper levels of the district is that the public, and internal stakeholders, are just a nuisance to be avoided. That's unacceptable.
I personally like what Nann Worel is doing in the City Council with regular opportunities for voters to talk directly with her and council representatives. There's no reason the school district can't replicate something very similar for stakeholders to communicate with the district leadership. I heard there used to be a community council with a representative at monthly board meetings. That should happen again too.
How can we raise classified employees' hourly wage to above the poverty line?
It's no secret that Utah education spending generally lags far behind most of the nation, and of course that impacts hourly wages, but this district spends near double the Utah average per student, so I think it's really a question of examining where that money is going and refocusing on critical staffing issues.
As I said before, the district is top heavy, but also I think there are legitimate questions about the number of no-bid contracts, and generally about what money is spent on. Certainly, the costs associated with things like self-inflicted construction delays don't help either. That is to say that better management across the organization will undoubtedly free up funds to raise the lowest wages.
How do you believe the district can best support Special Education students?
This ties back to the staffing issues and in-classroom support that I mentioned previously, but non-human resourcing too - making sure the right tools are available for special education students.
I'd like to talk more about this. It's actually what my mother did for a living, but I know there are significant gaps in my understanding of what these students need and I think for me therefore it has to start with listening to those who deal with it on a daily basis - they're the experts. I suspect that's true across the Board and District too. (Actually that's generally true for many of these issues - the solution to so many of these things starts with open communication with the people closest to them).
What challenges do Park City educators face and what is the board's role in supporting them?
At a high level, in Park City we're subject to the same social, economic, and political challenges felt across the country (and in many cases the world), with some of our own enhanced challenges thrown in for good measure. Notably access to affordable housing and lack of childcare.
The Board's specific role I think has to vary by the nature of the issue. In some cases they can and should take a very active role - keeping critical childcare facilities open, for instance, or setting compensation rates that allow educators to live and work in the area.
I think the next two questions speak to some of the wider pressures and how actively the Board can and should support educators, but I will just say that for me, the broad role of the Board is to oversee a district administration that creates the kind of positive, supportive environment we just discussed.
Should the school board/district encourage educators to 1) teach honest history through their CORE curriculum and literature choices, 2) have a diverse classroom library that reflects their students' lived experiences, 3) use equitable teaching and learning practices to reach, teach, and inspire students, and 4) be trained in social emotional learning?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes! It is nothing less than a tragedy that these things have become reduced to cheap political point-scoring buzzwords and ideological purity tests.
Nobody wins if we hide children from history and social reality, or fail to equip them with the soft skills, for want of a better term, they need to navigate life.
What do you plan to do to provide teachers protection from ravenous parents who are attempting to make a political statement by banning materials or accusing teachers of trying to indoctrinate their students?
Unfortunately much of this is fed from state and national politicians and partisan media outlets. That makes it really difficult for local school boards and even more difficult for teachers, but I think what the school board and the district administration can do is be unequivocal in their support for the four principles above, within the regulatory and legal boundaries imposed on them, and they can be vocal advocates pushing back on this destructive political encroachment into classrooms.
Shared decision making is a thing of the past in PCSD and we have been left out, how will you work with teachers and reinstate honest, shared decision making?
This really comes back to the cultural change I've talked about. Strong leadership is inclusive leadership. Far too often I have heard variations of this question, or phrases like a "culture of fear" in the school district. That speaks to weak leadership - leadership that fears dissent or criticism. Leadership that fears losing control rather than sees strength in embracing the unique skills and experience of staff across the district.
Unfortunately that won't change overnight - there is going to have to be a process of rebuilding trust, not just with educators and other school staff, but with stakeholders across the community too. It needs a specific, dedicated effort from district leadership, with multiple avenues for communication, and an acceptance that it will take some time to rebuild the trust to get honest input. From a practical perspective I believe in this case it also requires a change in District leadership - that's why I'm running for the Board this year!
How do you intend to address the lack of leadership, training and emphasis regarding diversity equity and inclusion within our district?
It's sad that the DEI task force wasn't properly supported. That should have been a good step. I understand one of its key recommendations was a full-time DEI leadership position reporting directly into the Board. That would be a good step too. I believe this is a really important issue, and those are concrete actions the District could and should have taken.
Representation is important too - both in classrooms and in the district office, and that means DEI being placed at the core of hiring efforts, but just at a high level, it needs a demonstrated commitment (as with so many other things) in the form of targeted resourcing, and it should be reported directly into the Board in open session so it's fully transparent.
I often get asked to complete surveys from stakeholder groups, and to answer questions in different forums. These represent specific issues that are of interest to stakeholders, but I think the answers are important for all so I wanted to share somewhere accessible to everyone. If you have specific questions and concerns that aren't addressed here, let me know! I will add to this as I go...
How do you define SEL (Social & Emotional Learning) strategies and what do you believe it does in the classroom?
I think SEL is most simply defined as the "soft" skills that allow children to manage their emotions, build relationships, and navigate the world around them. Those skills are absolutely foundational to children's individual educational success, and everything that comes after it, as well as to creating a positive and equitable classroom environment where all children can learn and develop.
From a personal perspective, as a parent of a child with mild ADHD and with very big emotions, I see daily just how important it is for him, but it benefits every child and every classroom. It is terribly sad, and unfortunate, that SEL is becoming yet another buzzword used to advance political agendas and score cheap political points to the detriment of all of us, but especially our children.
What importance do you attribute to PE (Physical Education) and health and how do feel about the cuts made to these subject areas in the past?
I hope and trust very few would argue with the obvious and well-documented health and wellness benefits of children being more physically active, and that is reason enough to be very concerned by cuts to these areas, but there are two wider concerns I would like to highlight. First, both PE in itself, and the organized sport it feeds into, enhance children's social learning and relationship building which is at the core of lifelong success. Second, a personal story. I confess I was not the best student through primary and secondary education. Many years, and two Master's degrees, later I think I developed academically, but PE and sport more generally was what kept me in school and got me to university.
I know there are many children just like myself, who don't relate and attach to academic study. Giving them outlets to keep them interested and motivated to be in school is vital - not just PE/sport, of course, for others it may be music, dance, art, and so on, but these non-core subjects are often far more important to children and their educational and life success than many people commonly recognize.
What ideas have you formulated that will increase public school funding to keep up with growth, fully compensate teachers for their expertise and commitment to teaching, ensure they have the classroom resources they need to be effective educators, and making teacher retention a priority?
I believe that, as a society, we need to place a higher value on education, and educators, and prioritize it as a public expenditure. I also recognize that we are a long way from that, especially in Utah, though in Park City taxes in fact were just increased on the basis that the money was needed for teacher salaries. We've yet to see the effect of that. Overall though, while the paucity of Utah education spending is well known, within the Park City District we are near double the Utah average per student, so locally the question for me is less "how do we increase funding" than it is, "how do we prioritize funding?"
We have an administration top heavy with unaccountable leadership. We have a superintendent paid at the very highest level, and given a house, and a car, and near a teachers' annual salary worth of landscaping support in her yard. We have too many no-bid contracts. We waste money on self-inflicted construction delays (I have questions about exactly what we are building in some cases too). Long story short, we simply spend money ineffectively and inefficiently. Begin to rectify that, and I'm certain we'll find additional funds to properly compensate teachers and resource their classrooms.
How do you define CRT (Critical Race Theory) and do you believe it is currently being taught in Utah public schools?
CRT is an advanced framework for understanding how people of color are systemically disadvantaged in America. It is absolutely not taught in Utah public schools (until maybe university), though it could be useful for public school administrators to help them consider the impact of policies on different demographics. We have to push back on those who want to pretend systemic racism doesn't exist or that describing it is as divisive as the racism itself. The job of public school administrators is to strive to increase equity in our education system, and that has to be grounded in an honest reflection of where we are.
What vetting process do you support when a parent objects to a book in their child’s school? What actions do you believe school districts should take or not take?
Let me first just say that no society which has actively engaged in book banning has ever landed on the right side of history. With that said, I do believe parents have a right to an opinion on what books their own children read (though I would encourage them to think about the message they send when they make ideas taboo). What they do not have a right to, is control over what other people's children read.
For the most part, I trust that the educators within our schools are more than capable of picking appropriate materials for their classrooms. For oversight of that, the Park City School District, as I assume do others across the state, has a long-standing policy covering curriculum adoption, including parental, teacher, and in some cases student, review of materials which is quite sufficient to meet the requirements of the recent Utah House Bill.
We are at a point in history where political actors are actively seeking to control the flow of ideas to protect and advance their own interests. That's incredibly dangerous. Now more than ever, we need school districts to stand behind teachers to protect their ability to educate, and to ensure students have access to quality, accurate, and diverse materials.
Considering legislation that has been proposed in the last 10 years, how would you vote on voucher/school choice bills?
I do not believe a voucher system is the right way to go. I believe it would increase inequity and create a multi-tier system where already underserved populations are further disadvantaged.
What are your views on the Summit program or programs like it being implemented in our schools?
In general I am in favor of programs that recognize children's unique learning needs and facilitate appropriately sized educational groups to allow children to effectively learn and flourish. I think the keys are how programs fit within budget, time, and curriculum constraints, and how we ensure equitable access. Specifically on the Summit program, I am not familiar enough to offer a nuanced opinion, but I will learn more and I would be delighted to hear from people who are much closer to it!
What ways can we support diversity in our curriculum so that all students see themselves as culturally relevant?
In addition to what I said above in regards to curriculum, in brief, I think it is incumbent on school districts to protect educators' ability to teach. I think this is about more than just curriculum though. I believe we need a demonstrated commitment to DEI more broadly. In Park City we had a DEI task force that could have done good work but was regrettably unsupported from the District administration. That type of visible focus is important, with progress reported directly into the school board, but it must be accompanied by genuine interest from the Board in seeing real progress. Unfortunately that piece was missing in Park City.
Representation is key too. That means placing DEI at the core of hiring efforts so that students not only see it through the curriculum, but also through their lived experience.
What have you personally done to support teachers/public education?
This is exactly why I am running for the Park City School Board. Like many parents here, I have been alarmed by our district's continuing controversies and the lack of transparency and accountability. I'm saddened when I hear teachers talk about a "culture of fear" in the district. I'm concerned when I see the ongoing loss of experienced educators and growing class sizes. I'm angry when I see bullying behavior from sitting school board members, both on social media and in board meetings.
I believe there is a better way. We can support teachers, and other stakeholders, and elevate their voices. We can bring decision-making into the open. We can hold people accountable when essential procedures are ignored that put children at risk and waste much needed money. We can focus budgets on getting resources where they are most needed - into classrooms, rather than attorneys' and administrators' pockets. We can be honest about the challenges the school district faces and rebuild the trust between the district and its stakeholders. That must be the foundation of how we support teachers, children, and public education.