Park City School District may build upper elementary school
School board could include project in high school bond this fall
January 31, 2017
A Park City School District committee studying curriculum and school options for grades five through eight is recommending that the district house all fifth- and sixth-grade students in their own school, rather than building a fifth neighborhood elementary school for grades pre-K through five, an option some vocal members of the community have supported.
The committee, made up of teachers, administrators and counselors, has been exploring the issue since the fall, and delivered their findings at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Jan. 24. The group also recommended that the upper elementary facility be located nearby a school for seventh- and eighth-graders — likely Ecker Hill Middle School.
Following the committee's report, all five members of the Board of Education expressed support for such a configuration, but they also acknowledged a thorny challenge: Their timeframe to draw public support for the plan could be short. If the school board ultimately moves forward with the proposal, the district would likely include it on the same bond measure school officials are expected to put on the ballot this November to fund an expansion of Park City High School.
If such a bond passed, the district would not have to begin work on an elementary school right away, however, and could complete the high school project first.
The school board is scheduled to vote on how to pay for the PCHS project in March. If it aims to determine financing for an upper elementary school at the same time, that leaves just more than a month to inform residents and gather feedback from the community.
Several school board members at the meeting called for the district to quickly organize community input sessions and enact other outreach efforts. They appeared wary of falling into the same traps that doomed the district's first effort at funding an expansion of the high school and a new elementary school: a $56 million bond in 2015 that failed largely because the public did not feel involved in the process that led to the measure.
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Complicating matters is the fact many residents have voiced support for instead building a fifth neighborhood elementary school. Under that model, all five elementary schools would house preschoolers through sixth-graders.
Andrew Kaplan, a new board member, said while many of his constituents are in favor of an upper elementary school, the district must reach out to those who aren't.
"I think a lot of parents are going to have questions," he said. "… I'd love for that to be an open discussion."
In an interview with The Park Record after the meeting, Phil Kaplan, president of the school board, echoed that sentiment and added that dissenting opinions from community members could alter the process.
"That's a critical piece, is making sure that we have information regarding plans out to the public," he said. "There's going to be a heavy amount of activity around making sure there's a chance for the public to come in and comment. Not everything is set in stone at this point. There's definitely a chance for engaged members of the public and parents to comment."
The school board indicated its support for an upper elementary school only after hearing the committee make its case. The committee based its findings on both research and experience and said an upper elementary school would come with a bevy of benefits.
For instance, it would serve as a bridge to middle school and provide more opportunities for project-based learning and for students of different grades to collaborate. Additionally, the faculty would be able to focus on the unique needs of students at that age level. The committee's full presentation that outlines more of the benefits and how it reached its decision can be found on the district's website, pcschools.us.
Board member Petra Butler said many of her constituents are among those who don't want an upper elementary school. She found the committee's presentation compelling, however, and was confident many residents could also be swayed by learning about the committee's rationale.
An exact timeframe for the school board to make a final decision on the project has not been publicized, but Kaplan said he is optimistic the district's efforts will be more successful than during the 2015 bond campaign.
"I've definitely learned that we don't want to count any chickens beforehand, but I think we are doing a better job than we did the last time in terms of trying to anticipate that intersection of what is the best choice academically, what is going to be supported by the public and what is going to be fiscally responsible," he said.
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