Community discusses future vision to kick off school district’s master planning process
About 50 community members, teachers and students squeezed into the auditorium in the Sheldon Richins Building on Monday night. Some attended the master planning open house to tell Park City School District leaders what changes they want to see in the schools, and others came to meet the members of the district’s consultants for the master planning process.
But most showed up to simply see where the Board of Education stands on master planning. What they found is that no clear course has been set.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, opened the meeting by reminding the audience of the strategic planning and superintendent selection processes last year, which both tapped into the community for regular feedback.
When the Board was going through a master planning process a few years ago, Caplan said district and Board leaders already had an idea in their heads of what they wanted the outcome to be. In 2015, a $56 million bond that would have funded capital improvements was voted down, and many cited the Board’s communication strategy as a reason for the failure.
“We wanted to go through this process basically the opposite way that has happened in the past,” Caplan said.
Some parents in attendance agreed with Caplan’s statement, such as Josh Mann. He said he attended most master planning meetings leading up to the previous failed bond, and he felt like the Board was trying to convince the public rather than listen to them about their concerns.
“I was seeing if there was a difference here, and it really feels like there is a difference,” he said. “It’s not about standardized test scores, it’s not about buildings, it’s about trying to make sure kids are socially adept as well as learning and getting opportunities.”
One of the main changes he hopes to see this time around is improved transparency and communication between the Board and the community.
School officials spent the majority of the hour-long open house listening to those in attendance answer one question: “What do you think is the single most important outcome of this process?”
People talked about later start times at the secondary schools, vocational training and social equity. When Mary Christa Smith, coordinator for the mental health program Communities that Care, said she wanted to see an “environment that supports the whole child, emotional and social well-being,” several people nodded their heads and shouted “second” and “third.”
Students in attendance voiced their opinions as well, talking about improving teacher-student relationships and having programs in place that are relevant to careers students will likely have post-graduation.
Toward the end of the exercise, someone mentioned the outcome they hope to see is a bond.
Buck Swaney, a facilitator with GSBS Architects, a district consultant, said he wants to steer clear of talking about bonds or future buildings and instead focus on how teaching and classrooms will look for the schools in the future.
After listening to the responses of participants, Beth Cummings, a parent in the district, said she was surprised to find that new buildings were not what people seemed to care about, but rather it was to provide great learning experiences at the schools.
“Everybody thinks that we need to fix the facilities, but maybe not, maybe that is not an issue,” she said.
She said there are issues with space in some of the schools, including Treasure Mountain Junior High, but that there may be other solutions rather than a bond.
Another meeting took place on Tuesday, during which about 70 students, parents, teachers, principals and community members discussed the educational vision of the district. Once the community’s vision and guiding principles are set, the steering committee is expected to meet regularly to transform the principles to a master plan. The master plan is set to be finished in the spring.
The community can continue to stay involved by answering a question about what they think are the top three skills a Park City graduate should have. Contact information for members of the steering committee is also on that site.
“Focus on the data outcomes, on the academic achievement outcomes, on the rankings that we have. The school board is happy with the direction of the district,” said Andrew Caplan, school board president. “We can always do a better job, especially with things that aren’t our core expertise like building and land management.”
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