Parents fight to keep Park City School District superintendent
When Park City Superintendent Ember Conley announced that she would be resigning from her position at the end of the school year, several parents silently wished that she would stay. Then, one parent decided to voice her opinion.
Christina Miller, a mother of three students in the Park City School District, said that there was no way she was going to see Conley go without doing what she could to convince her to stay. She, along with other parents, have been aiming to gather support for a new movement called “Don’t Let Ember Go.” Ultimately, Miller said, she hopes to see Conley rescind her resignation.
To do that, Miller and Christie Worthington, president of the Park City School District Parent Teacher Organization Council, have been telling parents and community leaders to write letters to the Board of Education explaining how they feel about Conley leaving. They hope that the Board will then discuss with Conley her reasons for leaving and find a solution together.
“Whether you are pro or con, you need to get involved and write something so that the Board understands your position,” Miller said.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, said that the Board has received a handful of letters and emails. “Probably five to six at this point, asking us to do what we can to keep the superintendent,” he said.
Miller hopes to see the Board ask Conley to stay by its next meeting on Jan. 19. But, she said that the movement is more than just getting Conley back. It is to remedy some of the reasons that she left, whether issues with the Board or negative attitudes in the community.
Conley has not openly shared her reasons for resigning, but Caplan said in a previous interview with The Park Record that negative comments from parents and community members took a toll on her. She said that regardless of her role in the community moving forward, she hopes to emulate kindness and not to “hide behind our keyboards.”
Conley said that her intention when she came to Park City five years ago was to stay for a length of time and then retire. She said that she has been honored to serve as the superintendent but that she has no set plans moving forward.
“There are lots of opportunities in education, not only in our community but throughout the state. I am being very open to the opportunities that are before me,” she said.
But, she said, staying in the district could be one of those opportunities.
Caplan said that the Board does not want to see her go, but that it feels like there is “very little we can do to keep her.”
“It’s not our choice,” he said. “It’s something that is out of our control.”
Although parents and teachers might want her back, Conley said that her employment is controlled by the Board, so her fate will ultimately come out of a conversation with its members.
Worthington said that several parents reached out to her after Conley announced her resignation telling her how upset they were. When Miller told her that she was rounding up community leaders to write letters to the Board, Worthington began to tell parents. So far, several have been supportive. Teachers she contacted were in favor of the idea too.
Worthington’s major concern is that there have been several departures from the district this school year, including two Board members and associate superintendent Kathy Einhorn, who announced her retirement in November. She worries that so much upheaval could prove ruinous.
“How do we learn from our mistakes if everyone is new?” she said. “It’s not good planning and it doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”
As the Board begins a master-planning process, Miller and Worthington said they are nervous about the district hiring a superintendent and having them jump immediately into big decisions. The Board’s consultant for master planning Nick Salmon stated at the last Board meeting that having a superintendent dive right in could be a reason to delay master planning, and Caplan said that the Board is leaning toward putting off taking any large steps until this fall.
Because of that, Miller worries that Conley’s departure could hold the district back from progressing for multiple years. Another fear is that the community’s reputation for having high expectations will prevent the district from attracting a qualified superintendent, and that once they get their feet under them, they might leave too.
“You’re changing the trajectory of the district,” she said. “It’s a scary prospect that we could be a lot further behind in a couple years.”
Plus, Miller said, Conley has made positive changes to the school district and Miller wants to see more progress in the future.
So far, neither Miller nor Worthington has received a response from the Board regarding the letters, but they are not giving up hope. If nothing else, Miller plans to comment at the next Board meeting about the matter.
“There are a lot of us that believe there is a chance she will stay,” Miller said.
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.