School board needs to step back | ParkRecord.com

School board needs to step back

Meg Leaf, Park City

Over the last four years, the Park City School District has undergone intense change with dual language immersion (DLI), all-day kindergarten, removing 25 Reading and ESL instructors in grades 1 through 5, new curricula, new grading system, new testing and assessment tools.

Currently waiting in the pipeline are: new start times, a high school expansion, new curriculum (again), grade realignment, new elementary school, maybe a second high school, and new 5th/6th grade school.

Change is appropriate when fully understood and vetted, thoughtfully planned with stakeholders, and well executed across a timeline that works. Fundamental project management tools nicely pave the way. Our district leadership did not employ such care over the last four years, however, and, as a result, we lost quality in our classrooms and the ability to retain teachers.

To precisely evaluate our losses in numbers and exact comparisons is nearly impossible, but the following information helps paint a picture about the state of our district.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), during the 2011–2012 school year, 84 percent of public school teachers remained at the same school, 8 percent moved to a different school, and 8 percent left their jobs before the following school year.

Two school districts comparable in size to ours (but larger) in Utah are Sevier and Uintah. Sevier district reported that an average of 18 teachers left their positions in the last three school years; 12 in a typical year. Uintah reported an average teacher retention rate of 85 percent over the last two school years. Palo Alto School District in California, which is over double the size of ours lost 136 teachers in the last two years (approximately 20 percent).

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PCSD currently has approximately 340 instructors (including classroom teachers and aides who teach our students). In the last three years, 172 (51 percent) of them were hired and subsequently left their positions. Of those, 29 (16 percent) resigned. During this same period, overall, 167 (49 percent) instructors vacated their positions. Of those, 98 (29 percent) resigned, 28 (8 percent) retired, and 20 (6 percent) were either terminated or non-renewed.

We have had 189 (56 percent) instructional job openings since 07/21/2015.

Last Fall, our teacher survey revealed serious concerns in two major categories: 1.) ineffective execution of strategy and decision making and 2.) limited organizational effectiveness. Results were clear.

Notwithstanding pockets of excellence in our students' education, the picture coming into focus here is one of frequent, hastily implemented program changes and seismic shifts in our instructional base over a short period of time. For a small district that pays teachers better than elsewhere in Utah and receives the highest amount of money per capita, we are hemorrhaging resources like none other.

Consequences are not limited to dismal teacher retention rates, but include high student:teacher ratios (currently averaging 18-23:1 in our elementary schools after the promise of 18 or fewer, and 26.5 in our middle school), packed facilities, safety issues, wider gaps in achievement, lower SAGE scores, and less than ideal graduation rates. (According to 2015 national graduation rates published by The Hechinger Report, hechingerreport.org, Park City High School's 87.0 percent graduation rate ranked in the lower 39.7 percent nationally, while 60.3 percent of high schools ranked above it.)

Our district cannot move forward in achieving the educational excellence it promises without first looking back at the omens that predict otherwise. It must pull itself up by the bootstraps and overhaul our leadership team, starting at the top.