As the new Park City School District superintendent, Ember Conley acquainted herself with the district last year through community forums and staff meetings. One problem became clear in the process: something about the culture was amiss for such a high-performing district,.
And since Conley sees that a district's culture correlates directly to student achievement, she was eager to find a way to change it.
"It became really evident that the culture of the district needed to be improved," Conley said. "Everyone talked about it, so rather than ignore that, I began looking at different models of what's out there to improve culture of an organization."
Conley settled on MindSet, a consulting company that trains organizations on the characteristics of great teams and how to become one. The program MindSet offers allows the district to take an in-depth look within itself to identify areas where growth can be achieved.
"It allows us to look at our supervisors and see individual departments and work directly with them," Conley said. "Even from leadership style to team makeup."
The first step was to conduct a survey of district employees -- from teachers and administrators to those working in the district office. The survey was designed to dig deep into the trends and issues within the district. The survey, which had around 50 questions and was administered near the end of the last school year, asked respondents questions such as how supported they felt by district leadership.
"It was super comprehensive," Conley said.
Once MindSet compiled the data, its team met with Conley in July to analyze the results. She was not surprised by the data. Even though employees saw themselves as providing a first-class education to students, morale was mediocre. And while teachers said they were supported by their peers and direct supervisors, there was somewhat of a disconnect between teachers and the superintendent's office.
"The data affirmed what I heard and what I thought," Conley said. "The nice thing about the data is it gave very specific areas that we can easily target that don't cost money."
One example of an area in which the district already is trying to improve is allowing employees to provide input. It's not so much an issue of the district allowing employees to always have the final say, but rather that employees want their concerns and ideas heard.
"I think there had been a breakdown -- and it's no one's fault -- just between the transition from one superintendent to an interim (superintendent) to a new superintendent," Conley said. "There was a breakdown in leadership and communication."
Another area of concern the district is addressing is how employees view the Park City Board of Education. During a recent School Board meeting, MindSet founder Kim Hoogeveen presented data to the board that revealed there is a large gulf between the teaching staff and the board. And though Hoogeveen noted that a staff disconnected from the School Board isn't necessarily an uncommon occurrence among school districts, it is a troubling one.
"I think it was one of those reality moments that we know we need to do something different," Conley said.
The School Board already is taking steps to make changes. It was scheduled to participate in a work session retreat Tuesday designed to use the survey data to set improvement goals.
"They are educated, open-minded and passionate about education," Conley said of the board. "They're able to look at themselves as a board and improve. And that really is what the whole focus is. It's continual improvement, not punitive."
One of the most encouraging results of the survey -- apart from the fact employees indicated the district provides a top-notch education -- was that employees had pride in the district, Conley said. With that foundation already in place, she said it will be much easier for the district to become stronger.
"If you don't have pride and try to build pride, it's much more difficult," Conley said. "But if you already have the pride there, we already have the tools to grow on."
District-wide training using the survey data to build characteristics of great teams and team members has already begun. Conley said 10 employees who are respected and trusted within the district have been trained by MindSet to deliver further training to their peers.
The survey and the training have been well received, Conley said.
"Most of the time if I have something that I think is great, I usually have a few naysayers," Conley said. "And I will say with this that I haven't had any. That's a good thing."
The program has cost the district around $19,000, with future contracts determining additional spending that may take place. Conley said she has "total confidence" the program will result in the district delivering a better education to students.