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.