Following months of serious discussion, the Winter Sports School (WSS) in Park City hopes to join the Park City School District as its newest charter school. The idea to switch from an independent school to a charter school came after years of on-and-off talks between the Park City School District (PCSD) Superintendent Ray Timothy and Rob Clayton, the WSS Head of School, but it wasn't until last spring that the talks on took a serious tone.
"I have been working with Rob Clayton since I first came to Park City six years ago," Timothy said. "We met and had a discussion about WSS becoming charter school, but at that time, the school was not interested. As we continued the dialogue, we discussed what would benefit the community while being an advantage for WSS and the PCSD."
WSS operates as a full-year high school for students in grades 9 through 12 with an academic calendar opposite from a typical school year, running from mid-April to mid-November each year to give students the opportunity to focus on training and competition during the winter months.
"Switching from an independent school to a charter school is going to give many more people the opportunity to be more successful, both educationally and athletically," Clayton said.
"The potential impact is huge because as a charter school there would be no more tuition except those students coming from out of the state. And we could not discriminate against anyone from in-state as long as they are mission-appropriate," he added. "No other school in country does what we do."
Incorporating WSS into the school district was formally introduced in a Board of Education meeting last week where members agreed to create a committee to work with WSS on creating an application that would need to be approved by the board and the State Charter School Board.
For WSS to join the school district and receive state funding, the school must go through a review process in which they receive both local and state approval. The Park City Board of Education will first need to approve the application after which it will go on to the State Charter School Board. Then, the school could receive state funding and remove tuition costs placed on current students.
"The groundwork has been done," said Park City Board of Education President Moe Hickey. "We're at Step 1, which is the start of the application process if we proceed, the district will sponsor the charter and it will be attached to this district.
"The benefit we will look at when we make our decision will strictly ask if we are meeting needs of the community from an academic standpoint," he added.
And that is what Timothy was trying to work out when he first approached Clayton six years ago, to discuss what the school district needed to be doing to provide the right services to students. Timothy said, over the course of his time as superintendent he has come across many students who, for some reason or another, were not always able to be in the classroom. From trips to Nashville to record an album to racecar driving, students in the district have an eclectic background that may force them away from the classroom, he said.
"How are we meeting these students' needs," Timothy asked. "Before, we simply had to sign them out of school, and that is not meeting their needs. So we looked at online learning and other ways for students to stay connected to classroom."
If the application process is approved, WSS would incorporate itself into the PCSD by next summer. Possible changes include the WSS dropping ninth-grade services, additional instructors and adding classroom locations in unused PCSD facilities. The WSS school year starts in mid-April and extends into mid-November, but with the new changes for a portion of the school year classes could be held at the Park City High School.
"Students at WSS have a very different schedule," Timothy said. "They're off in winter months so the athletes can train and then they go to school in the summer.
"Incorporating WSS gives us another option of providing year-round learning for those students. For them, the major advantage is the available space. For us, we are taking care of students. I see it as a win-win."
The board anticipates making a decision to approve or deny the application in October, then the application will go on to the State Charter School Board for final approval.