Guest editorial | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial

Ember Conley, EdD, Superintendent, Park City School District

As superintendent of Park City School District, I am acutely aware of the responsibility I have to ensure the best education for our students. I am passionate about learning and I love children. Over the past weeks, I’ve heard concerns from our community about changes to our English Language Arts program – I’d like to answer as many questions as I can!

You’re likely aware of changes to Utah Core Curriculum. The modifications we are making, like implementing more rigorous standards, are a direct result of the adopted Utah Core Curriculum. Adjustments began in 2012 and the curriculum changed this year. But it’s not only that: after scrutinizing program adequacy and student data, I had the duty to change current practices into a more effective system. That examination of data led to a realization: students struggling the most had been in our system their entire educational career without making sufficient growth. At that point – I knew we needed to evolve.

Previously — struggling readers would be pulled out of classrooms, which means they missed out on grade-level time, and perhaps even important instruction. Removing them also created a stigma; we have had kids say, "I was in the dumb group." No more!

So what does a more effective system look like? This year, students remain in class –present for crucial grade-level instruction — while receiving support from a reading specialist, teacher and an aide. This happens as we transition to our new model, which is to pair our experienced teachers with the students who can benefit most from them. In a thoughtful and strategic process, we have used this year to segue. To drill-down into the research of why this model will be more effective, please refer to the wealth of information on our district website. This link leads to some especially illuminating information: http://www.pcschools.us/index.php?page=383.

As we advance, our talented classroom teachers, working with smaller classes, will be able to execute more effective reading practices. The smaller class sizes are the result of an additional 22 full-time employees, which have been added into K-12 classrooms over the past three years. I strongly believe in the power of a trained, certified teacher to ensure our students get the very best education.

Our expert teachers will still get support from a trained, certified interventionist. The interventionist is a new position with different responsibilities from our reading specialists; thus, we have begun to phase those positions out – to open interventionist posts. Each school will also have the continued guidance of an academic coach.

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I understand that our reading specialists are more than "positions," they are people who will be missed. Change like this is difficult, especially when it affects wonderful, talented colleagues we care about. The decision to make this adjustment was not taken lightly and it was not done quickly. It is one I’ve taken on with the knowledge that I have a moral and ethical imperative to change our current structure — which was ultimately not yielding results we need.

I realize that, until we see the model in action, it will be hard to be confident that it is the right move for our students. I’m certain, through my experience and my research, the results of the new structure will bear this out. For further information, I encourage you to visit with me one-on-one.

I begin office hours on Friday, March 8. Thanks to a generous donation from the Park City Chamber, I’ll be available to you each Friday through May, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., at the Park City Visitor Center in Hugo Coffee Roasters. I also hope you’ll join the Park City Board of Education and me as we visit each school during the month of April. We’ll host Q & A sessions where the community will be encouraged to voice feedback as we take our next steps to success.

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