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.